When Being Nosy is Being a Good Friend

A question: When you think a close friend has a secret–maybe something some specific, or maybe she’s just going through a hard time but isn’t talking about it–do you confront her and ask what’s going on, or wait until she comes to you?

I don’t know the right answer to this question. What I do, normally, is wait for her to want to open up. I figure someone isn’t ready to talk until they are ready to talk, and nothing I can say is going to speed up that process. But I’m not sure that’s the best option. Maybe said friend doesn’t know that I care, or that I even notice something is going down.

Like, say, if a friend is having marital problems. You go out to dinner or drinks and she seems slightly out of sorts. When you see them as a couple, something seems off. When you talk to her on the phone, she changes the subject when he comes up. You, astute friend that you are, can tell that there are issues. You know it’s probably eating your friend alive, this trouble at home. So do you ask–“Is everything ok with you and Husband?”–or do you listen and wait until she wants to talk?

The reason I always wait is that I don’t want to seem presumptuous. Maybe it’s none of my business. Maybe she is talking with friends, but I wasn’t chosen. Maybe she needs time. Maybe she was hoping people didn’t notice and the best gift I can give her is to not bring it up.

Now that I think about this, oftentimes when I’m going through a hard time, or have issues I feel I should keep secret, I pretend to not want to talk about it. I act as if everything is A-OK, but deep down I’m kind of hoping someone will notice that things are off, and ask, because it shows that they understand me and are paying attention and care, and it gives me an excuse to open up. And if this is what I want from a friend, why isn’t that what I should deliver?

Not sure. Mostly, I don’t want to piss anyone off by overstepping and sticking my nose where it’s not wanted. Which, let me tell you, is always very tempting. It’s that journalist’s instinct, to want to know everyone’s secrets and understand everything going on around you. Maybe that’s why I try not to pry. Because I know I’m nosy by nature (Hey! That could be their new band name–Nosy by Nature!), so I have trouble distinguishing the line between appropriate concern and care, and nosy none of your business-ness.

Hmm. The writing of this post has been a real lesson in self-discovery. Who knew?

What’s your take? Ask a friends what’s up?  Or sit quietly and wait for her come to you? Please weigh in below!

{I’m over at The Debutante Ball today talking about my two favorite literary characters. This was a really fun one. Who are yours?}

9 Comments

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9 responses to “When Being Nosy is Being a Good Friend

  1. Ana

    I’m like you, I would really love if someone would notice & ask. That way I don’t feel like I’m unloading all this baggage on an unsuspecting friend.
    I think the best thing to do is to give an opening, but be vague–“you seemed a little out of sorts last time we had dinner. Is everything all right? Anything you want to talk about?” The ball is in their court, then, to open up or keep quiet.
    I always think insinuating that someone may have marital troubles is just tricky territory & I try to stay out of it (I don’t want to hear “What? Why would you think that? Have you heard something/seen something?”)

  2. By nature, I’m like you and leave it be; but I’ve actively been trying to show my friends that I support them recently, so I’ve started asking.

    While I wouldn’t say, “Is everything okay with you and your husband?” I might mention, “You’ve seemed a bit out of sorts lately; is everything okay? Is there anything you want to talk about?” And if they say no, follow up with, “Well, I’m here if you change your mind.”

    I have some friends who have used this policy on me, and sometimes it’s nice to know someone is there even if you don’t open up.

  3. Depends on how close the friend is:

    Someone that I wouldn’t necessarily talk to about my own problems? I would say nothing direct, but would actively look for hints that she drops that indicate that she wants to talk about it.

    Someone who I would vent to? I would go the vague, but direct: “It seems like something might be bothering you. I understand that you might not want to talk about it, but if you do, know that I’m here for you.”

    Someone who I’ve gone to hell and back with, and we’re the bestest of BFF’s? Far more direct (“Something’s up. Spill.”) knowing that there’s little we keep from each other anyway. For that matter, this is a friend where I probably have a good idea of what’s going on anyway, and would ask a few pointed questions to get the conversation started. That said, I wouldn’t pressure… if the reluctance to talk about it persists, I would back off.

    I do know that from my BFF’s, I sometimes *do* expect them to be mindreaders and ask me what’s going on even if I haven’t wanted to bring up the topic myself. Sometimes I just want an invitation and to know that they noticed something might be wrong.

  4. Anonymous

    I’m an ‘asker’. What does it hurt? The friend is always free to say that they don’t want to talk about it (or to be vague/avoidant, in which case I’ll drop it). At least it shows that someone has noticed and cares.

  5. anonymous

    I’m super awkward when it comes to this – I’d like to think I would ask (because I, usually, want someone to ask about me if I’m in that situation) but it’s really hard. Sometimes, I don’t ask because I’m afraid what they’ll tell me isn’t something I can do anything about, and then I feel like I’ve just made it worse. This IS a tough one, and it is a big deal, because you don’t want to communicate that you don’t care, but you also don’t want to pour salt in a wound….

  6. Like everyone who has commented (and woke up earlier than I), my attitude with a close friend is to acknowledge that I noticed something is “off” with her. That’s the deal with someone you want in your life long term; so does she want to talk about it now or later.
    I know I would appreciate being given that choice, not being able to avoid this friend who knows me so well.
    The only time this might not work is with marital problems, but even then she only needs to say she’s not ready to open up or share and it’s time to back off with the “I’m here when you’re ready” line.
    It would be cruel to ignore this. A bestie would never…

  7. I am also like most people. I won’t ask directly about something, but I will ask how things are going and if they seem hesitant or something hasn’t seemed right, I will ask again – and maybe add something like are things really okay? Or something like that.
    I know that I do want my friends to realize that something is up. But I also know that if I am not ready to talk about something, I will become moody and upset if they keep pushing and prying. So, I try to just ask the same question again if I think something is going on that they might want to talk about, but might not have wanted to “burden” me with.

  8. Sheila

    It’s tough to know what to do because everyone processes things differently. For me personally, I would want a good friend to ask. I say this because I went through a really tough time not so long ago and whenever I began to discuss the problem I got the distinct feeling no one wanted to hear anything negative (or perhaps they were uncomfortable hearing I was troubled…including my mother). ONE friend was receptive; we hashed out the entire problem over a bottle of wine and I was so greatful. Eventually some of the others allowed me to delve into my problem (including my mother) but I was guarded because I felt like they weren’t there for me when I really needed their opinions. I realized after that experience that some of my friends were going through troubling times as well and they may not have wanted to accidentally divulge their unhappiness by talking to me about mine. I do know that when friends ask for opinions it can be tricky to be honest (sometimes it comes back to bite…this may have been the reason behind what seemed to be a lack of interest). I once was asked by a friend if I thought she should follow through with getting married (oh boy!). My response was to skirt around my true opinion. I knew this was a no win situation. Many years prior to this I told a very good friend that her boyfriend was cheating on her and she did not believe me AT ALL. I was stunned to say the least! Our friendship was tense for a bit but eventually she found out for herself he was cheating, they broke up, and we remained friends. So, I believe if you get a vibe that a friend wants to talk, ask questions and follow her lead; she will let you know in her own way if she’s not ready to discuss.

  9. Cheryl

    One of the things I noticed in reading the responses is that people are hesitant to ask, but that they would appreciate being asked if the situation were reversed. Isn’t that part of making the effort to find best friends – making the occasional extra effort to inquire? If we all want someone who would notice and care enough to at least ask, why not do the asking ourselves? Maybe we’d make closer friendships if we did….

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