We've all been there. At the gym, over coffee at
Starbucks, on the phone after the kids are tucked in, or during a
play date - the moment arises when we have to make a choice about
how honest we are going to be with a friend.
For me, one such moment occurred a few years ago, when I got a
distraught call from a close friend. She and her husband
had argued, and he had struck her. Later that night, as
she sat on my couch sipping hot tea, she confided in me that this
had occurred before. A few days later, after numerous
phone calls with her husband, she returned home. Not a
month later, she informed me over lunch that they planned to start
a family. I was shocked, given everything she had told
me. In a split second, I had to decide whether to tell her I
thought it was a bad idea.
Although extreme, this is not the only time I wonder if I'm
being a true and honest friend. Whether it's an a
ill-fitting dress, a dysfunctional relationship, a child who won't
stop hitting, a poor career decision…when is honesty the best
Recently, I did an experiment. I decided to be more
upfront with my friends. First, a single friend had
broken up with someone because she didn't like his
shoes. I'm pretty sure she didn't appreciate my opinion
about ending a relationship due to a poor choice of footwear,
because I haven't heard from her since. Another friend
considered postponing a much-needed vacation with her partner
because her ten month-old daughter, still breastfeeding, had
stopped taking a bottle ("I can't let her starve."). After much
back and forth, I finally told her she was simply letting anxiety
get the better of her and should go. I haven't heard
from her since, either. I have a feeling, if I continue
with this experiment, I won't have many friends left.
It was clear from my informal research that most of my friends
are not necessarily interested in hearing what I
think. Does this mean our friendships are simply for
show? Do we hold back from giving our opinions because
we feel it will threaten the relationship or, even worse, because
we take some secret satisfaction in each other's struggles?
Perhaps we don't give our opinions because we're not always
looking for honesty, but rather we're hoping for empathy,
compassion, and a shoulder to lean on. Yes, one could
say it's artificial to withhold your opinion or you're not a true
friend if you're only saying what the other person wants to
hear. But I'm sure there have been countless times that
my friends have wanted to tell me about my dating, parenting,
marriage, life, and career blunders and bloopers, and I'm grateful
that they held their tongues. Sometimes, a friend speaks
loudest when not saying anything at all.
There are certain times, however, when we can't (and, dare I
say, shouldn't,?) hold back. And I didn't with my friend
whose husband hit her. I told her it wasn't a good idea to start a
family, and she should wait until her relationship was on safer
ground. Within six weeks of our conversation, however,
she was pregnant. But she and her husband sought professional help,
are working things out, and are now the proud parents of a
one-year-old baby boy. So whether it's planning a
family, breaking up over a pair of shoes, or cancelling a vacation,
maybe next time I should ask myself: who am I to judge?
-by Wendy Widom
Wendy Widom is CEO of Familes in the Loop (FITL), Chicago's hippest hub for parents and kids.
See more of Wendy 's stories here.
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