I’ve been close with my best friend for about four to five years now — since high school — and about a year and a half ago she got engaged. She’s 20 and her fiancé is a 46-year-old man and her former teacher. Although I don’t agree with her getting married so young and to someone who could pass as her father, I’ve refrained from saying anything harsh or discouraging about their relationship since he does treat her better than anyone she’s ever been with and she truly seems to be in love with him. But she’s been having doubts since the very beginning. She refuses to change her Facebook status from “single” to “engaged,” and if anyone ever asks, she says she’s single and not seeing anyone; her reasoning being it’s none of their business. Also, since he is her former high school teacher, she fears he could lose his job if word got around, which I can somewhat understand. She’s even agreed to go out with exes for lunch dates, and talks to them on a semi-daily basis without revealing that she’s planning on getting married in a year.
Recently, she told me she needs a break from her fiancé and wants to see what it would be like to have sex with other guys. I feel as though by not putting my foot down about her going out and talking to these other guys that I am condoning her cheating on her fiancé. I also feel that if I don’t voice how I feel about her making the wrong decision in getting married right now, then I’m willingly letting her make a decision that I think is a bad one. How do I go about being the “good friend” here? It also doesn’t help that I’m to be her Maid of Honor next year, and I feel as though I can’t help with her wedding planning and stand up for her while having these feelings about her getting married. What do I do? — Reluctant Maid of Honor
First of all, let’s get something clear here: you aren’t in a position to “let” or “allow” your friend to do anything. She’s a grownup and she’s your peer. No matter how much you might disagree with her choices, you don’t have the power to “put your foot down” and demand she change her plans or behavior. What you do have some power to do is voice your concern, but keep in mind that you run some risks when you do that. Specifically, you risk alienating your friend if she doesn’t want to hear what you have to say, and at a time when she’ll likely need you the most. But if that’s a risk you’re willing to take, especially if the risk of what may happen if you don’t say something seems bigger, then by all means, speak up, but be smart and strategic in how you go about it.
What you need to make sure you do is frame your conversation around your concern about your friend’s commitment to her decision to marry, not around your opinion of that decision. Be careful that you don’t say her decision is “wrong,” but just that you wonder if she’s absolutely sure about it, and if she is, you’re confused as to why she’d risk that relationship by cheating. And then tell her that if she’s made her decision and she has no plans to change her mind, you’ll support her but you cannot support or condone cheating of any kind.
As for being her Maid of Honor, it may help you to think of it this way: you aren’t necessarily standing up for and supporting the marriage; you’re supporting your friend. One of the best gifts we can give the people we love and care about the most is unconditional support, even — especially, actually — in the face of stupid decisions. Support is not the same as approval. It’s having someone’s back when they’re walking toward something they may not be able to handle on their own. And when is that support more needed than when someone’s walking into a marriage that seems doomed from the start? Be her Maid of Honor; have your friend’s back. If she goes through with her decision to marry, she’s going to need you in her corner, despite how painful it may be for you.
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