A few years ago one of my best friends started dating a guy who had been hanging out with our group for a few months. My initial impression of the guy wasn’t exactly a great one: he came across as arrogant and a little dominating. But all of my other friends seemed to like him, so when they started dating I kept my mouth shut and gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Almost immediately, it became clear that they had reached some sort of unspoken understanding that she needed “fixing” and that he was going to be the one responsible for fixing her. I found myself growing increasingly uncomfortable around the two of them, yet I still didn’t say anything to her because I wanted to believe it when she said she was happy and that they loved each other. I was in love with my fiancé, and I wanted to hope that my friend was experiencing the same joy. So I kept pushing the doubts out of my mind.
Shortly after, I got married and moved out of state. My friend and I would catch up through phone calls from time to time, often talking about her boyfriend and the future of their relationship. I never asked any hard questions (questions like, “do you feel like you have a voice in the relationship?”), and I regret that a lot now. A few months later, he broke up with her. She was devastated, since she thought they were heading towards marriage, but the breakup gave her the opportunity to look at the entire experience objectively. She pretty quickly realized, and confided in me, that she had been dominated, manipulated, and emotionally and spiritually abused.
My heart was broken for my friend, and still is, as she continues to battle some lingering issues from that time. But I was also furious at myself for not admitting my reservations. Sure, it might not have made a difference, but it might have. And now we’ll never know.
After this happened, a different friend started dating a guy who I had reservations about as well. Not wanting to repeat my mistake, I immediately talked with this friend about my concerns. In fact, we spoke about it several times. It was tense and indeed did weaken our friendship for a time, but ultimately she decided to marry him. They are still married now, and over time she and I have been able to build our relationship back up to a healthy place again. Her husband and I will probably never be great friends, but we certainly can have friendly conversations and I will respect the fact that my friend made her own choice. And in the future, if I start seeing warning signs, I won’t hesitate to speak up.
Through both of these situations, I learned a lot about what it means to be a good friend. It doesn’t mean keeping my mouth shut and convincing myself that I’m being “supportive” by not having hard conversations or asking uncomfortable questions. And, of course, being a good friend also doesn’t mean aggressively arguing my point or shoving my opinions in someone’s face. There is a balance, and that’s what I’ve learned and continue to try to implement.
So if this were to happen again I would think about specific concerns I have and examples of each, and then invite my friend over for coffee. I would be open to what she says about the relationship. After all, she is the one dating him. Then, if and when the time felt right, I would bring up my concerns as gently and lovingly as possible. I have realized that doing something like this is a big risk. Let’s be real, no one wants to know that your friend doesn’t like who you are dating. I obviously have no control over how my friend would respond to my thoughts, but I do know that I can control myself and my emotions so that I do not get swept up in arguing in the heat of the moment. So even though a conversation like this could very well be a point of tension in our friendship, I also know that if done lovingly and humbly I might just help her avoid heartache.