Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A years-old comment comes back to haunt best friends


Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared March 29, 2009. Dear Carolyn: My best friend recently told me that her fiancé doesn’t like me – which would explain why there’s always an excuse as to why he, and sometimes both of them, can’t come when I try to plan an activity. Seems my best friend told her fiancé that I thought she could do better. Not the best thing to say, I know, but this was over six years ago. I was honestly surprised to learn he had these issues with me, and I’m having a hard time accepting it. I’ve offered to talk to the fiancé, but she advised against it since they’ve fought over this and she’s not willing to fight any more. They’re getting married in the fall. How do I navigate this water without feeling like a phony or p.o.’d friend? Boston Boston: This is quite common wherever people function in groups – families, workplaces, schoolyard­s, anywhere. Dirt is currency. You fault yourself for dismissing the now-fiancé, but while I appreciate your willingnes­s to take responsibi­lity, I don’t believe your loose lips were the problem. In fact, I’d argue that as long as you didn’t have ulterior motives for speaking up,* then you were doing your job as best friend, by both not holding back and being open to changing your mind. The main problem is that she severely mishandled your opinion. What did she hope to accomplish by passing on to her fiancé something you presumably said in confidence? At best, it was an expensive bit of carelessne­ss; at worst, it was calculated. People use informatio­n as leverage and even mild self-promotion all the time. Sharing news about friends hints that you’re popular enough to be privy; office tidbits suggest you’re plugged in. Swapping family news makes you central to these important ties. Negative informatio­n is particular­ly potent. In sharing it, you form a mini alignment with your confidante against the person you’re dogging, or whose confidence you’re betraying. Good news makes groups, bad news makes factions. Consciousl­y or sub-, your friend chose factions. When your friend then passed along her fiance’s negative opinion of you, and discourage­d you from approachin­g him to discuss it, she effectively finished building the wall. That’s also commonplac­e. For some, more isn’t merrier, but instead more chances to get excluded. So they use their currency on individual loyalties – on splinterin­g. It might be unwitting, or well-meaning but misguided. So ask her – out of genuine curiosity - why she chose to “out” you both. Point out that the result has been to push you to the edges of her social life. If it’s not what she meant to do – genuinely - then she’ll be willing to take the uncomforta­ble measures to make things right. That means her sticking up for you, and asking him to hear you out on that ancient critique of his worth. *If you told your friend she “could do better” because you, too, were choosing factions – trying to align her with you against this invasive new guy – then you’ll need to admit, and regret, what you did.

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