I‘m feeling concerned for a friend and confused about what, if anything, should be said. My former college roommate was a very bubbly person. Obviously, after school, we didn’t talk as much…but we kept in touch. Each time I see her now, she seems more disconnected and more diminished. I noticed it around the time she got married. It became worse over the next year, then she had a child and it became even worse still. In this ten year time span, I myself married and divorced a difficult man. I see pieces of him in my friend’s husband (being fussy and super critical). But…like my friend…I was very private about things. Kept it inside. I feel like I ought to say something, but I’m not sure what it is I ought to say. I don’t want to offend her. I don’t want to embarrass her either. But I feel horrible watching her wither before my eyes. Should I say something? If so, how do I do this delicately?
You know what I thought while reading your question? Christ, is this about me? Are you secretly my friend, and is this your way of "delicately communicating" with me? Because, shit, I’m married to a difficult and super critical man, too. Though I’m not exactly "very private," so there’s that. My point: 1) I can make shit all about ME when it’s not all about me (okay, maybe a wee bit about me); 2) we can all see "pieces" of ourselves in those around us: it’s a form of empathy and self-centeredness all rolled into one fun-filled fact; 3) chances are that your friend, like me, already knows the marriage in which she’s living, so what exactly does pointing out your concern do to further her happiness or health? Before you answer, consider this:
"Ideally, What do I want for her to take away from our TALK?"
I can tell from your question that you genuinely care for your friend. If you had to fast-forward and assume this confrontation/conversation just took place, how would you describe it? That is, how do you imagine things playing out? Do you see it as a quick bite of a conversation, with a waiter poking in and out of your lunch to ask if everything’s to your liking? Is it something you’d bring up over the phone? Or is it more of a meaningful talk–between commercial breaks of Glee? Is it a conversation you suspect you’ll both remember for a long time? You can actually learn a lot about yourself just by going through this exercise and examining your own expectations.
So, what do you want for her to take away from your conversation? Maybe all you want is for her to recognize that she could have a problem. Maybe it’s depression. Maybe it’s a shithouse marriage. Maybe all you want is for her to find a nice chesterfield sofa with a matching therapist. Perhaps you just want to remind your friend of who she was, once upon a time, before "she" became a "we." This much is clear: you love your friend. You want her to be happy, to realize that she doesn’t have to be the woman she’s committed to being for the past decade if she no longer wants to be. You want her to know that you’re there for her. That she’s not alone. Perhaps you want her to know that you know exactly what it’s like to feel small and childlike, that you want her to feel empowered and to help her get more of her power back (in the relationship or elsewhere). Maybe you want her to just recognize that there’s a world of options open to her, to know that she’s not closed in. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s about you. Are you projecting your ideals and notions of what a "good" or "happy" marriage is? Hell yes you are. We all privately pass judgments on one another’s relationships. It doesn’t mean we’re right. But, it also doesn’t mean we’re wrong. Next, consider this:
"What do I want to get out of this discussion?"
A lot of us wedge our opinions and advice into the lives of those we love because, well, we do after all, love our friends and want them to be tap-dance happy, but we also do it because we want to feel useful. We want to feel important. Maybe we’re looking for a deeper friendship. Maybe we want to disclose something ourselves, to talk about vulnerabilities so we can feel someone really knows who we are.
Make sure you’re bringing this up to your friend not for a chance to rehash all you’ve chosen to leave behind (and look how much happier I am!), but because you think the conversation will, in the end, make your friend a happier person. Really, all you can do is ask her if she feels disconnected or diminished. From there, it’s up to her what she wants to do with those emotions (if she even feels them). Perhaps she’ll bake, or want to spend all her time redesigning the rooms of her home to project the life she wishes she were living (Oh, go on, read into that one).
Bottom line, if it were me in your polished shoes, I’d say something because I can relate. I live at that address, and I’m working on feeling less bullied and less defensive… but I’d also realize there could be a very high probability that I was just projecting my shit onto someone else. It’s also worth mentioning that only you know what your friendship can handle. There are certain friends where you know anything said will go in one ear and out their ass. Then there are other friends who’ll respond with one-word answers and who’ll un-friend you on Facebook (not sure any of us need friends like these). Most friends might feel hurt, might feel defensive, but will often realize that your heart’s in the right place… if, in fact, it is. The question then becomes, what, as a friend, can you really do to support a friend through change? I’m just sayin’ baked goods, girl nights with chick flicks and tea parties do not hurt.
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