Is friend challenging and questioning, or judging?
Advice columnist Carolyn Hax on trusting adults to know how to live their own lives.
Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My best friend since my early 20s and I have hit a rocky path. It feels like the biggest in the last 18 years of friendship (wow, that’s an insane number). We have survived our 20s and 30s, the death of a spouse, single parenthood and being miles apart. And history tells me that we will get through this too.
But right now, in the middle, it feels awful. Sad. Lonely. It’s because I don’t support my friend’s change of heart, and she feels judged. I am judging her. Up until a few weeks ago, she always stated she would never live with a guy. And now, she decided she is willing to make that compromise for the man she is dating.
The stupid thing is that if any other person had decided to shack up, I wouldn’t care. It’s all around me. But I’m completely surprised she would change her mind. I’m disappointed, and I told her.
I also told her that I wasn’t going to bring it up again. I know she is an adult, and I will love her no matter what. I don’t feel bad pointing out her inconsistencies to her. I would expect her to challenge and question me if I did a 180. That’s what close friends do. But now when I talk to her, the distance is huge. She doesn’t want to talk about her boyfriend or details about her life. Our conversations are very surface. I don’t know what to do.
DEAR FRIEND: Wait a minute. “Challenge and question” are different from “judge.” And SO many people think they’re doing the former when they’re really doing the latter.
Yes, friends do challenge when needed, in a loving way: “You’ve been so adamant in the past, I’m curious and concerned about the sudden change — have your beliefs changed, or are you looking ahead and thinking you’ll lose this guy if you don’t move in?”
To judge, on the other hand, is to say — or just radiate — that you think less of her now. That’s it. And if that’s the case, then the distance between you is appropriate.
Please figure out your true position here. If you’re just confused, then just say to her your version of: “I don’t think less of you for moving in with someone, I was just surprised by it and concerned that you were being pressured or something. I guess I just wanted to know what changed. I’m sorry my initial reaction was to judge you. I support you, whatever you decide, and hope you’ll trust me enough to share with me the way you used to.”
If you do indeed think less of her, though, then you have two choices: Either open your mind to a more live-and-let-live way of thinking, or respect your difference in values as paramount and accept that you will lose some friends as a consequence.
Throw in this, too: Unless my math skills are in free fall, you’re both around 40. Isn’t there an age where, as long as they aren’t harming others, you can trust people to know how to live their own lives?
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living