Dear Captain Awkward:
An ex (X) asked if I had reservations about X hooking up with a mutual acquaintance (A). I told X my reservation/opinion. X then told A what I said. A is angry and upset
On one hand, I gave an opinion when asked based on my knowledge of situations involving A. But on the other, regardless of my intention, A got hurt, and I do not know A that well, so what I said could of course be totally wrong. I wish A had not been hurt, and it was not my intent.
I am thinking it over and trying to figure out if there is something I should have done instead. I am really stupid about human relationships (so often I don’t grasp what people find stunningly simple/common sense), and I would like to know how to address situations like this correctly in the future. Any insight or advice you have is truly appreciated. Thank you.
Honest but Awkward
Dear Honest but Awkward,
You gave someone you were close to an honest response to a question they asked. If X had not asked your opinion, you would have kept it to yourself. But they asked, and you trusted that it was a sincere request, so you were honest. You also, I’m guessing, trusted that X. would not pass these reservations onto A.
I don’t know if your reservations about A. were fair or reasonable or anything about them. Whatever they are, you can’t unsay them, so if A. brings it up with you, all you can do is apologize. “It was an opinion expressed in response to a direct request from X. I obviously don’t know you that well and could be way off base. I am very sorry that my words hurt you.“
Keep it short, keep it sincere, tell the truth, but do not get sucked into discussing it further. If A. wants to know why you had that opinion, or wants to pick at the affair, it’s okay to say “I think enough damage has been done and am not really up for further discussion. I am sorry that I hurt you.” And then end the conversation.
And then you back way off from hanging out with A. and let them make any further moves toward repairing the relationship. Think of A. as a strange cat – let the cat approach you, don’t pull the cat out from under the futon and make it accept your pets.
The person making the trouble here is X.
If you are friends with your ex, it can be a good practice to let them know if you seeing one of their friends (once there is something definite to tell, don’t share fantasies). That’s a shitty thing to be blindsided by. “Just so you know, A. and I went out on a date and are going to keep doing that. I wanted you to hear it from me and I didn’t want it to be a surprise.“
It is probably a bad practice to ask your ex for dating ADVICE or PERMISSION about dating one of their friends. You are totally putting them on the spot either to be okay with it or pretend to be okay with it, or, if they express reservations like the LW did, you turn them into the bad guy for having honest feelings. If you are exes who are good friends, chances are you’ve had to put a lot of old feelings and old conflicts aside and do some hard work at focusing on the present. Consulting them too much into your current dating life is like opening the whole can of FEELINGSWORMS again.
I realize there are exceptions and that the poly folk have entire books devoted to this, but if you are asking an ex for permission or dating advice about one of their friends, really examine your motives. Are you giving them a true opportunity to refuse their approval or refuse to comment? Would their refusal really change anything about what you intend to do? Do you already suspect they will react negatively but hope you can push a token “Yay for you? I guess?” rubber-stamp out? Do you need to date your ex’s friend AND feel like a super-swell person who is 100% approved of at all times that badly? Either you’re all adults here and it’s okay or you know some reason that it’s really not okay. Chances are you’re going to do what you’re going to do anyway (the crotch wants what the crotch wants), so politely inform but don’t seek or expect approval.
Letter Writer, if you and X have that kind of friendship where this is okay, then it was in bounds. HOWEVER, I think it is, without exception, bad practice to ask for someone’s honest assessment & opinion of another person and then pass the badmouthing onto that person. This is where X screwed up and made your life super-awkward. You gave an opinion when asked. X made sure that A. knew that opinion, even though they knew it was negative. Who fucked up here? X.
Most of the time, you shouldn’t say something about someone that you wouldn’t say to them. But between trusted friends, honest references need discretion in order to work.
“I’m thinking of becoming roommates with Q. You guys roomed together for a while, what was that like?”
If it’s a friend you trust to behave with decency and discretion, you tell them honestly that Q constantly ate all your food and always had the television or radio on and doesn’t understand what dishwashers are.
If it’s a friend you think will go immediately blab to Q about everything you said, you say something like “Hrm, it wasn’t really for me, but do whatever works for you!”
The trustworthy friend will tell Q “Thanks, but I think I’m going to find another situation!” without naming you as the reason.
The untrustworthy friend will blame you as the reason it is falling through and transfer Q’s disappointment to you. Surprise! That, by the way, is the very definition of creating drama. “Someone who is not me totally disapproves of you, listen to what they told me!” UGH.
Not all secrets deserve keeping. Not all peace deserves keeping. But not everyone deserves your full, honest opinion, either, and a habit of passing on hearsay is a quick way to stop deserving it.
Letter Writer, however it all works out, what you can take from this is:
- Your relationship with A. might not recover. That is mostly not up to you at this point. The words are out there.
- Your beef here is with X., “Hey, if I’d known you were going to pass that on, I wouldn’t have said anything, so thanks a bunch for making everything super-awkward!”
- X. is not someone you can trust with your honest opinions, and it is okay to put them off the next time they ask for one.
- You can do that explicitly – “The last time I told you what I thought, you detonated a giant drama bomb. NO THANK YOU,” or just by refusing to comment at all. “That seems like none of my business, but I hope it works out how you want it to.
I don’t think you’re “stupid about human relationships”, I think you were put in a bad spot by someone with maturity & discretion problems.