My best friend is getting married in a few months and I am so sad. We have known each other since childhood, and while it is true that I probably hold too high standards for my loved ones, her fiance seems like a poor choice of life partner. He is combative, argumentative, immature and possessive, and puts her down regularly, often in front of other people. She deals with his unpleasant traits with good humour but admits they argue a lot. They have been together only a couple of years and have had a very short engagement.
I worry she is rushing things and making a huge mistake.
Shortly before they met at a singles party, she admitted she was desperate to be married before she turned 30 (she will be 30 next year), and I can’t shake the sense that she is settling for this undeserving man because of a self-imposed deadline. I understand that if this is the case, it is her own mistake to make, and my priority is to be there for her whatever happens. But how can I approach all the planning, hen party and wedding celebrations with a supportive smile when I am so worried about my friend’s future happiness with this man?
Eleanor says: I think it’s worth pausing before getting to the “it’s her mistake to make” verdict.
The whole modus operandi of bullying is that everyone will be too polite to point it out. To those of us witnessing a person’s boorish behaviour, it feels like a big, rude deal to say “I think he sucks”. Even small hints feel like a large expenditure of rudeness coins. We’ll roll our eyes, or say something plausibly deniable but snide when he comes up, and because these tiny little protests require some courage, they make us feel we’ve said our part. But to the person in the jaws of a bullying relationship, they are almost literally inaudible.
It takes six, seven, two dozen neon flashing warning signs for the message to get through. This creates an asymmetry: friends and family can feel like they’re waving red flags while the person in the centre feels everything is normal. Bullies know that. Many of them don’t even bother to cover their tracks (this guy’s attacking her in front of people?). They rely on the fact that most of us just won’t expend the amount of social energy it requires to really register an objection.
I say that to raise the possibility that your friend might not quite have made a real decision here. If she had – if she knew her best friend was concerned, she’d thought hard about why, and decided to marry him anyway – then I agree your priority would be accepting it’s no longer your business. But it’s easy to overestimate how much a person in her position knows. In particular, people often know the descriptions (“he yells at me a lot”) without knowing the evaluations (“that’s not OK”).
So maybe it’s worth having a real conversation with her about this. One awkward candid moment might be better than a drip-feed of half-feelings forever. It is possible to register concern without sounding judgmental.
Position yourself as the one who needs reassuring, not the one who is answered to. Don’t talk about your “standards”, “rushing” or “mistakes”. Especially don’t suggest that she’s insecure about turning 30. Just ask questions. What does she love about him? How did she feel when he did X? How does she interpret his behaviour when it looks frightening to you?
And stress that you love her, no matter what. This is another message that takes several neon flashes to get through, especially if her self-esteem has been corroded. It’s not enough to say “Obviously I’ll support you but … ” It has to be its own agenda point: I love you. I love you. Your happiness matters.
If she marries him after that, you can know it’s not because she’s on the other side of the politeness asymmetry. In that case, you’re right that you’d better put your whole back into the ceremony. Tell her over and over that you are delighted – a moratorium on little protests. Win an Oscar for the role of joyful friend. Imagine what good reasons she could have, just to remind yourself they might exist. Repeat to yourself that you don’t know the reality of their relationship, no matter how much it feels like you do.
But don’t be too quick to get there because the alternative feels mean. Too many good people are minced under the wheel of cruelty because the rest of us thought it would be rude to call the wheel cruel.
Ask us a question
Do you have a conflict, crossroads or dilemma you need help with? Eleanor Gordon-Smith will help you think through life’s questions and puzzles, big and small. Questions can be anonymous.
If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here