Tuesday, August 15, 2006

When Should a Friend Speak Up?

Anonymous writes...

What a fun blog! Now here's a question of delicacy. And not the tasty kind either.

Your best friend who is widowed is dating a guy and is serious about him. You want her to be happy, but he does not have her level of education, sophistication, intelligence, you name it. Most of her friends think he is after her money and the security it will provide, whether he can get his hands on it or not. He makes inappropriate comments in social situations, and loudly, such as in the middle of a piano concert, or talking about their sex life at the dinner table. We all want her to be happy and he is good to her.

Should we just let things be since he seems to fill her needs? Should we speak up if she asks what we think of him? So far we just grin and bear him. We play nice because we love her.

What would Wanda do?

Wow. You jumped right in with a tough one, didn't you? Can something that is tough be considered a delicacy? I guess it all depends on the culture you come from, doesn't it.

At this stage of the relationship, it seems that your "playing nice" is appropriate. However, since you just "grin and bear him," I am guessing that being around them (him) socially is a trying affair. One could hope that your friend will realize over time that he is something of a rube and doesn't fit well in her circle of friends. On the other hand, if she really likes him and grows to love him--and he treats her well--she may decide that he is the one for her. Will that mean the end of a friendship with her if it is too difficult to be around the boyfriend?

You say that this woman is your best friend. People have different standards for intimacy with their best friends and I won't even venture a guess what that level is between you. If it were me and my best friend, I would somehow need to find a way to talk to her. Certainly, "if she asks what we think of him," I would need to find a way to tell her my thoughts, feelings, and concerns as tactfully as possible, the whole time being absolutely clear (with myself and with her) that my first concern is for her happiness and well-being.

Would I bring it up if she didn't ask? There are two situations that would cause me to do that. One is if I were seriously concerned about her well-being (financial or otherwise). If I really thought this guy was trying to take her for a ride, I would have to talk to her about it--especially if I saw them getting really serious (i.e., moving in together, getting married, somehow commingling their funds). The other would be if I found myself wanting to avoid being with them (or I saw other friends backing off) because of her beau's behavior and verbal inappropriateness. I realize that my saying something might hurt the friendship if she felt she had to choose him or me. On the other hand, if I were choosing not to be around her because of him, what is there to lose? Both of these situations require some kind of threshold being (or about to be) crossed: 1) their decision to make their relationship more permanent when I see some big red flags, or 2) my feeling like I can't be around them for some reason of values and sensitivity or taste on my part.

I am not as concerned about his lack of education or even intelligence as I am about whether he will be able to fit into her culture and circle of friends (and maybe how she would fit into his, but we are not looking at that side of the equation right now). Sometimes, with time, two people can learn one another's cultures and have the toughness softened...kind of like marinating a tough cut of meat, or using the fruit acids and enzymes to cook the fish in a poke (a Hawaiian dish pronounced PO-kay) or ceviche. (Come to think of it, I once had a tako poke--octopus poke--that was pretty tough.) It may be that this relationship needs to marinate a bit longer. He might become less of an insult to the taste buds (or jaw muscles--less chewing and clenching) over time as they settle into the relationship. It would be very sad, indeed, if being with him made her circle of friends smaller.

I hope this recipe is useful to you, dear Anonymous. That's what I'd do.


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