I have a best friend, I’ll call her Star, and we’ve been best friends since kindergarten. We’re both 21 now, and I love her dearly. The thing is, she comes from an abusive household. They forced her to pick a future career path that we both agree she won’t be happy with, but she refused to even consider changing it. Her dad makes her do most of the chores every weekend that she’s home from college while her brother sits around and doesn’t help. Her dad doesn’t have a job and depends entirely on her mother for money.
For the last few months she’s been dating a guy who’s fourteen years older than her. Up until she started sleeping at his house at night, he wouldn’t even call her his girlfriend. He’s only her second boyfriend and the first relationship didn’t last long. He recently quit his job without a backup. Ever since, she’s been spending most nights at his house because he “needs her,” and I know they’re having sex. She won’t talk to me about it though, and I know she’s never been on birth control or seen a gynecologist.
When I tried to bring it up with her, she immediately told me to drop the subject because she’d been lectured enough by her mother and I backed off. What really concerns me is that we’ve talked about sex before and she had always wanted to wait until marriage. Now she tells me that they’ve had a talk about marriage and how he wants to be engaged to her by next year, which seems rushed to me. I can’t express my concerns to her because she’s already been hearing it from her mother, so if I say the same thing it’ll make my opinion invalid. She already thinks I’m a poor expert in relationships. Yesterday when we were talking about me meeting him for the first time, it evolved into a talk about my last boyfriend, who was controlling for the whole month we dated. When she referred to my ex-boyfriend as immature, and when I pointed out that immaturity and being a controlling person are different, she told me they were same thing so now I’m really worried, because if she thinks her man is “mature,” she won’t think he’s controlling.
I want her to be happy and I’m trying to be a supportive friend but I feel like she chose a guy who resembles her dad in personality. Now she’s thinking about marrying him after just two months because they’re so “compatible.” Should I just keep my mouth shut?
In a word? Yep.
And trust me, Sparkler: I know how hard and frustrating that is. It’s one of the world’s most universally aggravating experiences to watch a beloved friend taking less-than-fantastic care of herself, whether it’s by failing to stand up to her pushy parents, being cavalier about her health, or dating a guy who seems like an obvious troglodyte. (Although in this case, it’s worth noting that he isn’t an obvious anything, seeing as you haven’t even met him.) But you’ve still gotta do it, and the primary reason why is right there in your letter: You brought this up once, and your friend told you unequivocally that this part of her life is not up for discussion. Whatever missteps this girl may be making, and however spineless she may be when it comes to drawing lines with the other people in her life, she has set a clear boundary with you on this front. Please respect it.
But hey, while you’re respecting it? You can also be encouraged by it, because the fact that your friend is owning this choice is good and important—even more important than the part where she might be choosing badly. Even if this guy does have a few unfortunate characteristics in common with her father, she’s still decided to pursue the relationship under her own steam, and despite the disapproval of her overbearing parents. That’s a huge and much-needed step for her in the direction of becoming an autonomous adult—which is something you yourself have acknowledged she struggles with. Now is not the time to undermine her independence just because you don’t like what she’s doing with it.
Of course, none of this is to say you have to keep your mouth shut forever. If she solicits your opinion, you’re welcome to speak up. But if your goal is to be a supportive friend, then please do be very careful and very cognizant of the difference between “You seem unhappy on this path” and “I’m unhappy with the path you’ve chosen”—and make sure that you don’t become just another judgmental, overinvolved meddler in her business. If you think your friend should have the right to choose her own career, then surely you agree that she also has the right to choose to have premarital sex, to date an older man, or to consider marriage after a fairly short period of time—not because these are necessarily great ideas, but because she’s entitled to take risks and make missteps just like anyone else. You already think her parents are abusive jerks for the way they’re trying to influence her choices; surely you don’t want to do the same thing.
And if those choices land her in a relationship that isn’t right for her? Yes, that’s hard to watch—but, hey, that’s what breakups are for. Your friend’s mistakes may make her life difficult, but they’ll also make her grow, and make her that much more capable of choosing wisely next time. That’s the great thing about developing the strength to make your own decisions; if one of them turns out badly, you can learn from it, and change direction. And if you’re lucky, your friends will support you through that process even when they don’t necessarily agree with the way you’re doing it.
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