#763: Being supportive when your friend’s troubles are of their own making.

Greetings Captain!

I don’t know how to be a good friend to my best friend, who I will call Belinda, right now. Basically, she is living with a friend and Belinda has been flirting with / sexting with this friend’s, who I will call Tabitha, husband behind Tabitha’s back. Tabitha just told Belinda – via email – that Belinda needs to find a new place to live. According to Belinda – Tabitha feels threatened by Belinda’s presence in the house. When Belinda told me about the flirting / sexting a month or so ago I warned her to be careful because I sort of knew this was going to happen. Belinda is (usually) a very good person, but has been put in a very shitty situation due to her (soon to be) ex-husband springing divorce on her suddenly.

I understand her need for compassion, and empathy right now, but I really want to tell her that losing her housing situation is completely her fault, and that I really don’t want to hear about it. This is the second time she’s had to move because of sexual reasons. Belinda was living with a family member, and Belinda dated this family member’s spouse years ago. The spouse apparently hadn’t moved on from his feelings and made things awkward for Belinda and her family member. Belinda moved in with Tabitha, and now all of this is going down.

I don’t know what to say to Belinda. I want to be friendly as I love her dearly, and I KNOW she is a good person. BUT I will not make excuses to her or blow smoke up her butt. I don’t want to be that kind of friend. I don’t want to lose her friendship, but I also don’t want to ignore the messages she’s sending me. I don’t know what to do. Please help.

Signed,
Don’t Want to Say I Told You So

Dear Don’t Want To Say I Told You So:

Your most diplomatic script for Belinda is probably some version of “It sucks that you’re scrambling for housing right now. What’s your plan?“”That sounds really hard/annoying/painful/sad/awkward. How are you going to handle it?” or “What do you want to do now?

Is Belinda initiating and encouraging the ickiness with the dudes, or are they seeing a vulnerable, recently-separated woman in their house and being creepers? From your letter, it feels like the first situation was her being perved on by someone with poor boundaries, and the most recent thing is something she’s been more actively participating in (with someone with poor boundaries). I’m not sure the two situations are exactly analogous, especially if she’s a victim of an opportunist creep in the first situation.

Sometimes you just gotta level with people. “I love you. I do not understand your choices right now.” “I want to be supportive, but WTF, friend?“I don’t follow; how is Tabitha wrong, exactly? (Tabitha seems maybe good at boundaries?)” “Why do you think this is happening?” “I know you are hurting, but from your stories you’ve told me you are not acting like the good person I know you to be right now. Are you ok? What’s going on with you?” “You already know what I’m going to say. Do you want to hear it out loud or are we good?” “Everybody makes mistakes sometimes. Good job being really ambitious about it, buddy!

You can be a loving friend without being the “I cheerlead your bad decisions!” friend.

 

164 comments
  1. Ely said:

    Being a good friend does not mean we must always agree with our friends choices. Being supportive does not mean supporting a person’s every action. And neither means always biting your tounge and lying to someone and building sets for your friend’s imaginary soap opera where she is a misunderstood heroine and agree that none of her unethical or harmful behaviors “count”.

    If this friendship cannot survive a little reality check and resetting of boundaries, then maybe it is not a good friendship.

  2. Karen said:

    Perhaps being a good friend to Belinda includes helping her to get some counseling or checking out how she is really doing, inside. I am thinking her behavior with the husband might be a sign of inner turmoil.

    • Courtney said:

      I was thinking the same thing.

      If she’s actively seeking these situations, “You’ve been making some choices that seem self-destructive and out of character. Have you considered talking to a counselor about why that might be?”

      If she’s being creeped on, “You’ve had several of these icky situations come up lately, and that really sucks. Have you considered talking to a counselor about help with establishing and enforcing boundaries while you are vulnerable right now?” (The latter is NOT meant to be victim-blamey. As someone who has gone through a painful and sudden divorce, I know that being vulnerable and in that particular kind of pain can throw a wrench in one’s ability to articulate and defend one’s boundaries. Also, that situation can leave one somewhat disoriented as to where they *want* their boundaries to be–you want comfort and support, but you’re numb from grief and miss the early warning signs that a creep was testing your boundaries instead of being an actual friend. A counselor can help you recallibrate.)

  3. Is Belinda actually trying to bring Tabitha’s decision into her discussion with you at all, or is she just letting you know about what’s happening? Big difference. If she’s trying to drag you into a whinefest about how unreasonable Tabitha’s being, then I think it’s OK to set a boundary about that. But you don’t mention anything of the sort in your letter (which I accept doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, but based on what you’ve given us here I can’t say that it has) and, if all she’s doing is venting about having to move, then you can sympathise with that without commenting at all on the rights and wrongs of what led to that point.

    Thing is, if your response to Belinda’s “Damn, Tabitha wants me to move out” involves *any* version of “Well, this only happened because you did…”, then the message you are actually giving her is “I do not trust you to be able to work out for yourself why what you did was a bad idea. I feel that I need to explain it to you, because I do not trust you to have the ability to learn from your mistakes of your own accord.” That’s a pretty shitty message to give someone.

    If you don’t want to say ‘I told you so’, then don’t say ‘I told you so’. Yeah, that may involve some tongue-biting and resisting temptation, but it is still what this dilemma boils down to. This letter did read pretty much like a request for a way to say ‘I told you so’ without actually having to come out and say it, and such a way doesn’t exist.

    • LW763 said:

      The thing I guess I forgot to mention is that when I saw Belinda last she kept telling me how Tabitha is a horrible wife, mother and person, and how she (Belinda) is tired of watching it. I think part of it is that she wants to vent, but I think she also wants to bad mouth Tabitha, which isn’t fair. I can understand how Tabitha is feeling right now – If I were in her shoes, I’d be doing the same thing (asking Belinda to leave b/c I feel threatened).
      When Belinda was telling me about her interactions with Tabitha’s husband I told her (Belinda) to be careful because while she didn’t think she was doing anything wrong she really was. I said that the best way I knew how.
      I’m sorry that my letter sounded like a way to say I told you so without actually saying it, but what I really want is help with interactions with her now without being that person. I don’t know if she thinks talking to Tabitha’s husband the way she did / does is wrong, but I don’t want to educate her on why it was wrong because she’ll get defensive.
      I agree with people saying that Belinda should get counseling, and I’ve suggested it, but she won’t do it. I think it’s a combination of pride (which I understand), and family / religious pressure (which I don’t understand). I want to be the friend she needs, and I need help interacting with her and scripts on how to respond if she brings it up again.

      • Hannahbelle said:

        One suggestion for when you genuinely want to support someone’s autonomy but think they’re screwing up is to say, “I don’t understand, but I want you to be happy.” It’s true; it avoids the whole I’m-right-you’re-wrong issue; and it acknowledges that there may be more to this situation than you can see (even if seeing it wouldn’t change your mind).

      • neverjaunty said:

        “She’s a horrible wife, mother and person, so I should sleep with her husband!” Uh, think you’re missing a few logical steps in there, Belinda.

        LW, I think it’s awesome that you want to be a good friend to Belinda. But what she NEEDS and what she WANTS are not necessarily the same thing, as you see from the fact that she screwed up her living situation (which she needed) by seeking really inappropriate validation (which she wanted). And if she’s defensive and engaging in weird reasoning to justify her behavior, she’s unlikely to be appropriately receptive to your being the Friend She Needs.

        I mean, you’ve said that if you say to Belinda ‘hey, maybe it’s not cool to hit on a friend’s husband behind her back, especially when they’ve opened their home to you’, she may not even understand why it’s wrong, and if you try to get her to understand why that’s wrong, she’ll stop listening to you. That’s…. a very hard baseline to work from, if you’re trying to help her.

        • Courtney said:

          “Uh, think you’re missing a few logical steps in there, Belinda.”

          Sounds like a grief lash-out to me. “Why does *she* get to keep her marriage when she does XYZ?!!?!?” I had some similarly uncharitable feelings when I was grieving the loss of my marriage. Grief isn’t rational or logical. It also isn’t something one should act on while in the thick of it.

          • Polychrome said:

            ooh yeah I know this one. A second cousin of mine was married and then had an affair and married that guy and when my husband left me I was like why does she get TWO postulants to husbandhood and she’s not even all that [insert series of uncharitable thoughts here] and I get ZERO and I am the great and wonderful me sooooo unfair argle bargle. It’s a rough patch of time and those sorts of bad thoughts can lead to bad acts, sadly. I feel pretty lucky I emerged without doing or saying anything too awful.

      • Given that Belinda doesn’t think highly of Tabitha at the moment, you could point out that not living with Tabitha is probably a good thing.

        For what it’s worth, I would want to say “Tabitha is your host. Bad mouthing her and flirting with her husband is bad manners” I don’t know if I would say it, but I’d really want to.

      • aebhel said:

        Yeah, in my experience (having been the cheated-upon person), people who want to cheat or get involved with a cheater frequently try to justify it to themselves by making the cheater’s SO out to be a villain. Nothing that Tabitha has done here strikes me as particularly villainous, so that’s my guess for where Belinda’s head is at. It’s self-justification.

        I don’t think that ‘I told you so’ is particularly helpful, but…just because a friend wants to vent doesn’t obligate you to be the sounding board. I think it’s perfectly fine for you to tell her that you don’t think Tabitha has done anything wrong here and that you don’t want to hear about how awful she is (assuming that’s the case, which it sounds like it is). “I’m sorry you’re in a tough situation, but can we please talk about something else” is usually a good go-to line.

        Also, I think it’s possible to tell someone that a thing they did was shitty without it becoming about how you TOLD them not to do it. Sexting her friend’s husband was definitely a piece of poor judgement on her part, but it is also a pretty lousy way to treat a friend even if it didn’t get her kicked out of the house. I wouldn’t spontaneously launch into a lecture about it, but if she tries to get you to validate her behavior, I think it’s fine to say, “look, I don’t think what you did was okay and I don’t blame her for being hurt/mad.’

    • klopidq said:

      I too am hearing the desire to deliver an “I told you so,” LW, and it’s hard for a relationship to absorb that action without damage, as Dr Sarah explains nicely here. I get the feeling that part of your irritation is that you warned Belinda and she didn’t heed your warning. So the consequences are a result of her behavior, yes, but they’re also a result of her not acting on your advice, and it seems as if you could be taking some offense at that.

      I will not make excuses to her or blow smoke up her butt. I don’t want to be that kind of friend. I don’t want to lose her friendship, but I also don’t want to ignore the messages she’s sending me.

      You can refrain from making excuses or blowing smoke up her butt without effectively rubbing it in, or shaming her. There’s a huge middle ground. And what are the messages she’s sending you? That she’s having a hard time and hasn’t been able to take care of herself well and wisely lately? That she seemed to show by not heeding your warning that she didn’t value your opinion/counsel, and now she still wants sympathy and support? I can relate to your frustration there. But I think I’m a better friend when I don’t unleash that kind of irritated frustration on its source, or insist on acknowledgment that I was right when my friend is in such a bad place.

      A less friendship-threatening mode might be framed less as calling someone on her bullshit and more as calmly hearing about her experience and reflecting back reality, and maybe concentrating less on whether a friend is a “good person” or not. But your feelings are involved, too, and if she hurt your feelings by not shaping up when you suggested it, or has you feeling frustrated and unsure of how to interact with her now, it seems totally legit to tell her that. Like, you could be up front about where you are with her without tut-tutting. Including saying that you’re not comfortable discussing her secret romantic/sexual business.

  4. Judas Peckerwood said:

    Sounds like the services of a professional counselor might do Belinda some good right now.

    • LW763 said:

      I really wish Belinda would go to a counselor. It would help her so much! She won’t go though, and I cannot be her counselor (which is how I feel when she tells me stuff about Tabitha).

      • caryatid said:

        is that something can say to belinda? maybe you have already said this. but i think it’s totally acceptable to say “this is beyond my pay grade and this is what counselors are for”.

        • LW763 said:

          I’ve mentioned how much a counselor helped me to her, and I told her that I really thought that a therapist / counselor would be better equipped with how to help her, but she won’t go.

          • It sounds as if the part you really need to say to Belinda, LW, is, “Look, I get that you’re going through a hard time, but I cannot be your therapist right now. You know that I wish you would see a real, professional therapist, and I know that you don’t choose to do that, and that is your decision. But I cannot act as a substitute; that’s *my* decision, because if I try to do that I will break. So I need to ask you to lay off talking to me about Tabitha and Tabitha’sHusband, because that is more than I can handle right now. I love you and I want to do what I can for you, but ‘what I can’ does not include that. Let’s talk about something else, please?”

            You don’t get to make Belinda see a therapist if she doesn’t want to, but you DO get to set your own boundaries about not being one.

      • e271828 said:

        Dear kind LW, you are allowed, if a conversation starts veering over into anything you don’t want to talk about, to say (perhaps holding up your hand in the traffic-stop gesture): “I don’t want to talk about this.” This is about the only way to halt it if subtle hints to deflect are ignored. You may need to continue with, “No. No, I don’t. I really don’t. I just don’t.” You can introduce a new topic of conversation which lies at a great distance from the undesirable topic, or the conversation may be over and you can leave. This sounds harsh, but someone who is determined to air a subject you don’t want to hear about is treating you badly and you can turn it aside or leave. In this case, Belinda will likely resent it, but I believe she will get over it.

        You do not need to rescue Belinda, by the way. Do keep that in mind.

        Sometimes people who are nice, good people have a really screwed-up thing going on, and they have to work it all out for themselves. Belinda may be one of these. It can take a long time.

        • Blue Meeple said:

          I have a friend who has in the past taken “I don’t want to talk about that” as an invitation to delve deeper into the subject I just said I didn’t want to talk about. So definitely be prepared to change the subject or leave.

          That may mean coming up with a list of subjects changes in advance (are you watching that new show? I read this book I think you might like! How is your cousin who is completely separate from this situation doing? Etc.) and it may also mean thinking in advance about where you hang out and making sure you’re in a situation where you’re able to leave. Like, even though it’s convenient and you’ve done it before, not your home.

          • Aaargh, I know someone like that, but he is super persistent, like:
            Me: Sorry, but I don’t really want to talk about that right now. Hey, how are [sports team] doing?
            Him: Why don’t you want to talk about it?
            Me: I just don’t. I thought I saw they won last weekend, right?
            Him: But why don’t you want to talk about it?
            Me: Explaining that would require talking about it, which I already said I didn’t want to do. So we either change the subject or end this conversation.
            Him: OK! Jesus! Touchy!
            Me: If you say so. Now, were you at that match last weekend?

            I wish I didn’t have to talk to this person 😦

          • Blue Meeple said:

            @amberxebi – Right?? That is very much like the conversations with my friend.

            Honestly, she’s someone I kind of want to stop being friends with, but there are reasons that really I can’t right now.

  5. Rose Fox said:

    I haven’t run into this with friends so much, but when someone I manage at work is worried that I’m going to scold or scorn them for dropping the ball, I tend to open with “I hope you’re doing okay”. I don’t hire people who would drop the ball on purpose, so I know there’s got to be something else going on that’s overwhelming them, and starting with compassion really helps to defuse their anxiety over being taken to task.

    LW, I think a similar thing could help you talk with Belinda. Make a date for a weekend afternoon, sit her down, and start with “I hope you’re doing okay.” Make space for her to talk for a bit about how not-okay she is. Then you can move into “I’m worried that your response to these stressors is to flirt with Tabitha’s husband behind her back. That doesn’t seem like the Belinda I know. I love you and I want you to find a happy, stable living situation, but you know that can’t happen if you keep sabotaging yourself. What do you think would help you give yourself the love you need right now, rather than reaching out to inappropriate people for it?* And while you’re working on that, how about we find you a better roommate situation** that has zero people-you-find-attractive involved, so you won’t be tempted?”

    * Dial the “inappropriate” part of this up or down depending on whether she originated/exacerbated the problems with her first living situation.

    ** I’m assuming that living alone is just not an option for whatever reason.

    Unexpected divorce is incredibly awful, and someone going through it can think a whole lot of awful things in an effort to make sense of it. If Belinda is subconsciously trying to prove that she doesn’t deserve love or happiness or a stable home, or that all marriages are doomed to fail, or that all men are scum, then she’s going to keep getting into this sort of messy unpleasant situation. If she’s just crushingly lonely and looking for someone, anyone, to ease her pain, that can lead to many other kinds of poor decisions. Definitely encourage her to work with a therapist if she isn’t already–and a good divorce lawyer, who can sometimes be just as therapeutic!–and to give herself as much self-care as possible to help make up for the sudden absence of the person she relied on most for emotional support.

    • This is a very kind comment. Wise too

      • JenniferP said:

        Agreed!

    • LW763 said:

      “If Belinda is subconsciously trying to prove that she doesn’t deserve love or happiness or a stable home…” That is exactly what is going on, and I don’t know how to help her realize that she DOES deserve love and happiness, and that she IS a good person who people love and care about.

      • Rose Fox said:

        In my experience, the only way to do this is by example: love her and treat her like someone who deserves good things (not in an “indulge your every whim” way, just in an honest and caring way). It takes a long time for it to sink in sometimes. :/ You’ll probably need your own support from your own Team You so you can vent your frustration over the process. But if you can keep pouring love into her without untenable costs to yourself, and if she can surround herself with other people who treat her well, eventually, she will start to learn that she gets to have nice things.

        • Exactly that. It has taken me years to understand that some people, who I think are my social and intellectual superior, enjoy spending time with me. I still dont know what they get from it, but by their repeated efforts and behaviours I have learnt to accept, believe and enjoy it.

          Keep giving this to Belinda and hopefully she will realise she doesnt need flirtation to feel some kind of attention and reward.

    • newtypegirlie said:

      This comment resonates with me deeply. After my divorce, I was in a state where I unconsciously felt as if bonds I had made were meaningless and expendable and as such, treated the people I cared about poorly in an attempt to get what my wounded heart needed (a place to live, attention, love, support, etc.)

      I was seeing a therapist because I knew my behavior was not well, but while she helped me deal with the loss of my spouse, I don’t think she helped me deal with my day to day behavior. It kills me that I tried to be better and failed for months, but the thing that hurts the most now is that my friends’ “I told you so” came /after/ I had gotten into a better place, rather than “don’t do this” while I was acting out. It’s good that LW has already told Belinda that her behavior is dangerous. I don’t have any real advice on how to deal with the situation other than what others have said (don’t scold but don’t support the decision).

  6. Dynamitochondria said:

    Sometimes, being a friend means calling your friend on their bullshit. Turns out, I’m really bad at it. I’ve had exactly one friendship survive the calling of the bullshit, and that was after he took an extensive break and probably still doesn’t get it.

    • JIll said:

      Some of my best friends have called me on my BS, and I on theirs. The best script I’ve used has been to remind them “You were my friend yesterday, you’ll be my friend tomorrow. I just can’t get behind you on this one.” Then gently moving into THIS is why and HERE’S how I need to proceed going forward.”

      Sometimes just giving that reassurance that this one issue is upsetting/angering/offensive….but is also not a deal breaker helps. Best of luck to you, LW

    • Lillian said:

      I’m pretty sure the reason why I am now married is because I’m the first person who ever really called my husband out on his bullshit. I respected him enough to say, “Hey. This is bullshit.” and made it clear I expected better from him, knew he could do better, and knew he could handle hearing it. He really shaped up and not only respects me, but has gained a lot of self respect as well. It wasn’t easy, but it was effective.

  7. Rose Fox said:

    Also, regarding this specifically:

    I really want to tell her that losing her housing situation is completely her fault, and that I really don’t want to hear about it.

    It might help if you can separate those two desires. Telling her that it’s completely her fault, in so many words, is probably not a good plan if you want to stay friends. Vent that part to someone who doesn’t know her. But you do get to tell her that you don’t want to hear about it:

    “I’m really sorry that didn’t work out for you. I’m not the right person to support you through it. I’m happy to [help you find a therapist, look through apartment listings with you, distract you with fun stuff] but please don’t email/text/call with complaints about the current situation.”

    But whyyyy? “I think I would say some things that would make us both unhappy. I want to be a good friend to you while you’re going through hard times, but being your sounding board isn’t a thing I can do right now, so let’s close off that avenue of conversation and focus on other ways I can help you out.”

    And then anytime she brings it up: “Sorry, I can’t talk with you about that. Do you think the liquor store might have some empty boxes you can use to pack up your stuff?” Or whatever topic change you like.

    Sometimes saying “let’s not go there” is an ESSENTIAL part of being a good friend.

    • manybellsdown said:

      I have had to say to a friend “I love you, but what you are doing with Famous Married Guy is not okay and I will not have conversations about your Feelings for him.” She kept trying to bring him up. We had to take a break from talking for a couple of years. Eventually, Famous Married Guy divorced his wife and married someone else (not my friend) and moved away.

      She doesn’t bring him up to me anymore, and I do not consume his work because I am not a fan of his part in the equation, either. Our friendship survived it, somehow.

  8. Lily said:

    I have told friends: “I’m sorry about *situation X* right now, but I’m still flabbergastet that you thought doing Y (which led to X) was a good idea.”

    Normally not in “moral fail” situations, but in “common sense fail” situations, though.

  9. Remember the situation between Belinda and Tabitha is between Belinda and Tabitha (and obviously Tabitha’s spouse). You don’t have to get involved, and you can tell Belinda exactly that if she wants your opinions on a situation that you don’t feel you can discuss in a way that’s supportive to her.

    You say you want to tell Belinda that losing her housing situation is her fault. Why? She knows, and you’d only be rubbing it in. Even if she acts like she doesn’t realise, it could be because she feels ashamed or hasn’t had time to process things mentally, but I guarantee you she doesn’t need to be told her shitty situation is her fault (particularly since she only got there because her own partner sprang a breakup on her). I think the Captain’s suggestions are excellent because they keep it neutral and make it about housing and what to do next, not flirting and what’s already happened.

    Finally, I want to say you are being a great friend. You want to help Belinda and you want to do it without hurting her. You want to support her even though you disapprove of her choices and that is very good of you.

    • “Remember the situation between Belinda and Tabitha is between Belinda and Tabitha (and obviously Tabitha’s spouse)”

      Hi, LW. I’m wondering if this is hitting you particularly hard because Belinda’s actions have hit you in a particularly painful place because she’s done something which has hurt Tabitha (who may or may not be a mutual friend?). I might be projecting here, because this is something that happened in my group of friends and the result was that the Belinda in my friend group lost a lot of those friends, because the mutual friends thought, “if Belinda is willing to do something which hurts Tabitha, who has been kind and helpful in finding her a home, how can I trust she doesn’t want to hurt me?” And if that’s influencing how you’re feeling at the minute, that’s ok to feel. But it is a seperate issue from “how can I convince Belinda she’s wrong?” (the above poster did a great job of explaining why that’s not the best natured thing to bring into a friendship).

      • LW763 said:

        I’ve never met Tabitha. All I have to go on is what Belinda has said. I’m trying to take it with a grain of salt because I know that Belinda is hurting, but she’s said some very awful, unfair things about Tabitha.

        • I’m glad it’s not ending up in the middle of mutual friends, because that can be tough. But if Belinda really does dislike Tabitha so much, then it’s probably better for everyone that she no longer lives with her.

          • JenniferP said:

            “The wife of the man I’m constantly flirting with while under her roof is just terrible…at being a wife!” does not pass the smell test to me, and I can see why you are so frustrated, LW.

          • Hannahbelle said:

            This is even more speculative, but when it’s phrased like that, it almost sounds like the classic way cheating couples dismiss the cheated-upon partner as somehow deserving it. It’s self-serving in that it covers up guilt. Not saying you need to call her out on this, but it may be a passing thing that will disappear once she gets some distance from the flirtation and finds a better life situation than “newly kicked out for being kind of a sleaze.”

        • Bunny said:

          Yeah, now THAT I can definitely imagine myself setting a boundary about *and* speaking out about.

          “Friend, I am sorry you are having a difficult time finding somewhere to live, and I am sorry you’re being made to leave where you’re currently staying. But I cannot be your sounding board for Everything Wrong With Tabitha. I don’t know her, and I don’t care whether or not you personally think she’s being a good wife. I will not pretend that what you’re going through right now with Tabitha is an unfair or disproportionate response to your behaviour in their house.”

          That may be harsh, but if Belinda is aware of how you originally felt, and keeps insisting on trying to rant about Tabitha with you, it’s likely what I’d end up saying.

          • aebhel said:

            This.

        • Light37 said:

          I would take her comments on Tabitha with All The Salt, because she’s mad that the wife of the man she’s flirting with doesn’t want her living there anymore.

          • LW763 said:

            Yeah, I’m definitely hitting salt MINE stages with what she says about Tabitha.

  10. Psyche said:

    Just wanted to add a different possible perspective. Consider that Belinda’s husband may have “suddenly divorced her” because she had an affair.

    Personally, I’d cut ties with Belinda because cheating is on my short list of Things Up With Which I Will Not Put (along with overt racism and a few others). So I would end this friendship. Your list doesn’t have to be the same as mine, but it is ok to have a list.

    From the tone of your letter, you don’t sound like you’re at this point with Belinda, so of course I’m not advocating for going nuclear if you don’t want to. But perhaps for the sake of other readers dealing with friends who repeatedly make crappy life choices that are destructive to others…

    I think it was your assertion that “she’s a good person!” which rang faint warning bells for me. She may be. Or not. Like many others, I have been stuck in an abusive relationship for far too long waving that banner. You do not have to prove that someone is Satan to stop associating with them. It is enough if you need to protect your own wellbeing and sanity. It is also enough if someone chooses to life their life in ways incompatible with your most deeply-held values: If you had a friend who was hitting his wife, you would be under no obligation to continue that friendship just because “he’s a good person,” nor because of his sad FOO story, nor because he’s not hitting *you*.

    • moss said:

      I’m with you.

      • S said:

        Having an affair is Not good behavior. I certainly think it it completely reasonable grounds for a divorce/breakup, but also a lot of people cheat. And, you don’t know that Belinda had an affair while with her husband. And in the first instance of a housing situation falling through because a now partnered ex of Belinda’s from years ago is still harboring feelings for her? Is not her fault.

        Would I continue to be friends with somebody if I found out they were abusing their partner? No. I was in an abusive relationship. I can’t be around that. But, do I wish that my abuser has no friends ever for the rest of their life? Honestly I don’t really care. I am not going to spend my mental energy on wishing her ill.

        And, I do think cheating is in a different category from abuse (for me. You can disagree obviously.) Abuse is about power and control. Abusers do not change, unless maybe they seek help on their own and even then it seems like its up for debate whether they actually change or not. People who cheat are not doing good thing. I agree with that, and if I found out somebody I had a crush on had cheated at one point in their life, I would probably have reservations about dating them. That said it seems pretty well known that people who cheat in one relationship do not always go on to cheat in others. Humans are messy and sometimes not good at dealing with feelings. And people make mistakes. Perhaps Belinda had an affair. Perhaps Belinda’s ex husband was abusive and she got caught up in an escape. Not saying that would be an excuse for Belinda to have had the affair but we don’t know why her husband divorced her and I think it’s making a lot of assumptions to say that maybe she had an affair.

        I think in this case it is reasonable for the letter writer to want to stay friends with her best friend even though she is now not behaving well in terms of all the sexting.

        I guess ultimately I bristle a little bit at the idea that cheaters and abusers are in the same category of ‘evil’ person though I recognize that you may be speaking from the experience of having been cheated on and I am not and I can only imagine how painful it could be. And, I did have a friend that I cut ties with because we were not that close, she was cheating on her husband and right about when I found that out I found out she was saying she was hanging out with me as an excuse when she was actually with her paramour and I definitely wasn’t cool with being involved in any way.

        *If an abuser was using cheating as yet another way to exert power and control, then they do fall under the category of person I would not be friends with, but thats because of the abuse not the cheating.

      • Been there, done that said:

        Me, too.

    • S said:

      Having an affair is Not good behavior. I certainly think it it completely reasonable grounds for a divorce/breakup, but also a lot of people cheat. And, you don’t know that Belinda had an affair while with her husband. And in the first instance of a housing situation falling through because a now partnered ex of Belinda’s from years ago is still harboring feelings for her? Is not her fault.

      Would I continue to be friends with somebody if I found out they were abusing their partner? No. I was in an abusive relationship. I can’t be around that. But, do I wish that my abuser has no friends ever for the rest of their life? Honestly I don’t really care. I am not going to spend my mental energy on wishing her ill.

      And, I do think cheating is in a different category from abuse (for me. You can disagree obviously.) Abuse is about power and control. Abusers do not change, unless maybe they seek help on their own and even then it seems like its up for debate whether they actually change or not. People who cheat are not doing good thing. I agree with that, and if I found out somebody I had a crush on had cheated at one point in their life, I would probably have reservations about dating them. That said it seems pretty well known that people who cheat in one relationship do not always go on to cheat in others. Humans are messy and sometimes not good at dealing with feelings. And people make mistakes. Perhaps Belinda had an affair. Perhaps Belinda’s ex husband was abusive and she got caught up in an escape. Not saying that would be an excuse for Belinda to have had the affair but we don’t know why her husband divorced her and I think it’s making a lot of assumptions to say that maybe she had an affair.

      I think in this case it is reasonable for the letter writer to want to stay friends with her best friend even though she is now not behaving well in terms of all the sexting.

      I guess ultimately I bristle a little bit at the idea that cheaters and abusers are in the same category of ‘evil’ person though I recognize that you may be speaking from the experience of having been cheated on and I am not and I can only imagine how painful it could be. And, I did have a friend that I cut ties with because we were not that close, she was cheating on her husband and right about when I found that out I found out she was saying she was hanging out with me as an excuse when she was actually with her paramour and I definitely wasn’t cool with being involved in any way.

      *If an abuser was using cheating as yet another way to exert power and control, then they do fall under the category of person I would not be friends with, but thats because of the abuse not the cheating.

      • I think it’s worth pointing out the Captain’s excellent point on another post, which is that cheating is a form of dehumanisation (which is what abuse is too, really) – it’s deciding to take someone’s power over their own lives away from them, their ability to make their own informed decisions and denies them their reality. Now, are there some exceptions to that? Sure. (The best example that comes to mind is someone who cheats for a short amount of time, admits it to the other person right away, without being caught and doesn’t blameshift.) But the reality is that in a lot of situations, it is about power and control – wanting to deny the other person choices or knowlege.

        • kanel said:

          And I think oftentimes there’s gaslighting involved to cover up the cheating, which doesn’t really do wonders to a person’s phyche. At least that was the case for me with my cheating Darth ex. It might have been worse than the sexual abuse, but that’s hard to say. Either way it really broke me down over time.

      • Eh, different people are going to have different sets of characteristics/behaviors that fall under Do Not Want/Will Not Tolerate, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they are all equally bad. I wouldn’t be friends with an abuser. I also wouldn’t be friends with an aggressive proselytizer. Those two things are not even remotely equal, but I’m not going to put up with either in someone I voluntarily spend time with.

    • LW763 said:

      I can guarantee that Belinda didn’t have the affair. If anyone did it was her soon-to-be-ex-husband.

      • MellifluousDissent said:

        So I have this family member who got cheated on A LOT in the course of a decades-long marriage. After she finally divorced said cheater, she started online dating, and, lo and behold, the “only decent men” on the site (which is one of the big free ones in a major metro area) were the married men looking to cheat, so her current “boyfriend” is a married cheater. Why? Because in her marriage, the person who got all of the love and attention and affection was her (now ex-)husband’s affair partner, so she’s seeking out the love/attention/affection she missed out on for decades by literally becoming an affair partner. Now, if that’s what’s happening with Belinda (some version of, “men are cheaters, I’d rather they cheat with me than on me”), it doesn’t excuse her behavior, but I figured I’d offer it up because understanding the motivation behind my family member’s behavior has made it easier for me to continue to have a relationship with her in spite of her current choices (which are not-good for reasons including but not limited to her married boyfriend). If you want to continue to be a supportive presence in Belinda’s life, understanding her motivations may help you to have more compassion for her (less-than-ideal) actions.

        • Linden said:

          I had a friend who was in an affair with a married man for years. I chalked it up to her feeling like she wasn’t ever going to have a permanent partner because she thought of herself as not attractive and that this was the best she could get. That made me sad for her, but also not inclined to hear her complaints about MM’s wife and how wrong she was for him, either. We got through that period by my expressing some generalized sympathy, then changing the subject as quickly as possible every time she brought it up. Fortunately, another friend of mine who lost his wife to cancer came to the end of his grieving process, and they found each other!

        • LW763 said:

          You make a very good point! I hadn’t thought of that.

      • oregonbird said:

        LW, your letter makes it very clear that Belinda does not tell the truth in personal situations. She conflates, blameshifts, diminishes, etc. Since you are not party to her relationship with her stbx, you can’t guarantee anything about the reason she’s in the situation she is. I would suggest you take anything your friend says with a huge glass of salt.

        It’s hard to imagine Belinda has leaped from a lifetime of ethical chastity into actively destroying the lives of people who attempt to help her. She’s clearly had practice at working around her own guilt. It might give you a larger perspective to consider whether it would change your interest in involving yourself if your sympathy has been gained through deceit.

        If your friend will not go to counseling, there is *nothing* you can do in this situation. Nothing. Not. One. Thing. Except lose your respect and liking for that friend by watching every bad step and dissecting every harmful action she takes. For your own sake, and to keep the possibility of a future friendship alive — back off and let her handle her own life.

        • LW763 said:

          I know she wouldn’t cheat because she’s been cheated on before. For the record, *I* don’t think her stbx cheated on her (as in sex with someone else), but I *do* believe he was having an emotional affair with someone. I know that it’s easy to say that stbx is divorcing Belinda because she cheated, but honestly I know that’s not the case. I have my theory on why he’s suddenly divorcing her now, but if I go into that I’m afraid I’ll lose my anonymity.

    • neverjaunty said:

      This doesn’t seem very helpful to the LW. We have no information whatsoever that Belinda cheated on her husband (LW confirms downthread this isn’t the case). LW didn’t ask “how do I stop being her friend” or “do I have to be her friend” – in fact, she asked for advice on exactly the opposite, i.e. how to help someone she wants to remain friends with. Yes, it is excellent advice generally speaking to say ‘you can break up with friends if you don’t respect them or their values’, but…. this comment smacks of “I wouldn’t want to be friends with Belinda and you shouldn’t either”.

      • LW763 said:

        Thank you. That is exactly how that comment felt.
        If I thought that Belinda was a cheater (not just in this case of really shitty stuff happening in her life causing her to do things that are outside of her character) then I would absolutely stop being her friend. I know she hasn’t had sex with Tabitha’s husband. If she had, that is unforgivable, and I’d have hitched up the nopetopus. What she’s doing is absolutely wrong, but since they haven’t had sex, their marriage is still intact, and Tabitha had the courage (which I applaud) to ask Belinda to move out and I know that she knows it. I don’t think she’s in the right headspace right now to admit that, but I do think in a little time she will be more likely to own up to her mistake.

    • Alex said:

      Tabitha is (or was) Belinda’s friend as well, and one who put her money where her mouth is and opened her home to her in her hour of need. Given that this demonstration of caring and friendship wasn’t enough to prevent Belinda from risking her friends marriage and her own housing situation, I would have very grave doubts about Belinda’s friendship in general, LW. There but the for the grace of god go I and all that. What if you and your partner were the ones who did the charitable thing and offered her a place to stay? Friends who bitch and snipe about other friends behind their backs always rub me the wrong way as well, because you know they’re doing the same about you to someone else.
      I’m with Psyche. If you wanted to pull the pin on this friendship, I don’t think you could be blamed for it. She may or may not be a good person, but I don’t think she’s proving to be a particularly good friend.

    • Something clever said:

      Yeah, I got the sense, after reading that Belinda has a fucked up marriage, a fucked up relationship with a relative, and now a strained friendship, all involving sexual relationships, that Belinda is not the best friendship material. The common denominator being Belinda, she just *might* be toxic. No idea how old these people are or how long they’ve been friends. Now might be a good time for LW to distance herself from someone with self-destructive and other-destructive tendencies.

      When I was still in my 20s, I found drama-filled people very entertaining until I learned that I hated when their drama affected me personally in unexpectedly unpleasant ways. I hope this LW doesn’t suffer from this friendship.

  11. 30ish said:

    Maybe this conversation has already happened, but if it hasn’t and Belinda brings it up again, I might ask “why did the sexting with Tabitha’s husband happen?” Trying to figure out how Belinda views the situation might be helpful, and if you ask for an explanation rather than telling her she’s at fault you give her an opening to admit she was in the wrong. (I don’t think it’s telling her that she’s at fault that’s important to you, rather it’s important to you to hear her acknowledge it.) Maybe she will say something like “I know, it was such a stupid idea, it happened because….” Personally, I find it psychologically much harder to admit fault after being called out for a mistake than if I just get a gentle prompting to admit the problem. I tend to feel very vulnerable when I’m in the situation of having to agree with someone that I did something wrong, no matter how right they may be.

    • Rose Fox said:

      Huh, I always hate the “why did you” question, because the other person is so clearly looking for me to admit fault, rather than taking on the burden of telling me directly that they think I messed up. My mother once said that the only answer to that question is “because I’m an asshole”. I’d so much rather someone say “that wasn’t an okay thing to do, what are you going to do to fix it” than hit the moralizing note of “why”.

      • Polychrome said:

        yah, I don’t like the “why did you” or “why didn’t you” questions either, for the same reason (“because I’m a dope. Because I’m a scallywag. Because I’m a sucker.” etc. etc.)

        • I may have read 30ish’s post wrong, but I read it as something that could be reworded as “how did this situation come about?” Which seems, to me, less loaded. I’m not sure it’s necessary to ask her though.

          • Nanani said:

            Yeah, maybe asking why will reveal that HE is initiating most of this?
            I’m getting a whiff of judginess and a dose of slut-shaming from the LW here.
            Maybe trusting in your friend a little more wouldn’t hurt.

          • Nanani said:

            Oops, out of nesting but I see LW adressed this downthread.

          • LW763 said:

            Nanani – out of nesting room, but I don’t think I’d have any problem with her interactions with Tabitha’s husband were he not married, *and* were she not living in the house he and his family occupy. I’m very “You do you” when it comes to sexual relationships, and I hate slut-shaming, but I do see that I may have been doing that in this case. I’d probably not care as much if Belinda were sexting a married man (of course it’s terrible, but it’s not taking advantage of a situation [living space] while being slimy [sexting a married man], but it’s that she lives there – rent / utilities free – that angers me. It’s very rude and passive/aggressive to me – like Belinda isn’t grateful for their kindness and is trying to get thrown out. I don’t know if I’m clarify or obfuscating any more, but I just get squicked out by Belinda implying that Tabitha somehow deserves this because of things that Belinda finds wrong with her, that if Belinda didn’t have the relationship with Tabitha’s husband and/or she didn’t live there, I don’t think she’d find wrong. Does that make sense?

            I don’t want to slut-shame, judge or be mean / rude to Belinda. I love her; she’s got a good heart. It’s just right now, I see her making decisions that I think she’ll regret, and I want to *help her* – not necessarily to fix this situation because it’s not mine to fix, but in the general “be a shoulder” way. But, at the same time, I also have to guard my own heart, because I have stuff going on in my life right now that I am dealing with, and yeah, I’m a little hurt that she’s not asking how I’m doing / if I’ve heard from my doctor about a diagnosis / how is my husband. I feel like I can’t be the friend she needs right now, and I guess I was hoping to hear that I don’t have to be. (Which I have heard – thank you everyone that has said that!)

          • Nanani said:

            Still out of nesting room – Yes, I understand 🙂

            My initial comment was based on your letter and some of the discussion, and then I saw you addressed just that concern later in the thread.
            I don’t think Belinda is in the right to be doing what she’s doing either, but there is always a concern in my mind, given patriarchal culture and all that, about women getting blamed for things that men do to them. Your added information shows a clear difference between Situation 1 with the creeper and the current Situation though.
            And I absolutely agree that Tabitha doesn’t deserve any of it!

            I hope things work out well for you with a minimum of feelings!work to manage on top of your own things.
            Do you have close non-Belinda friends to help you through your non-Belinda-related life?
            Feathery jedi-hugs if you want them!

          • 30ish said:

            @amberxebi’s interpretation is what I meant to express. Less asking for justification, more for explanation how things happened in order to get an idea what motivated Belinda.

        • Courtney said:

          “Why do you think you were motivated to do X?” is veering into counselor territory. It can be helpful to unsnarl underlying issues when asked by the right person, but most friends without counselling training are probably not the right person.

      • neverjaunty said:

        “Why” doesn’t have to be moralizing, and “because I’m an asshole” isn’t the only answer. I suppose it depends on whether it’s “you should probably figure out what motivated you to do that” vs. “I demand an explanation and apology for your actions”.

  12. Mary said:

    You haven’t really said what Belinda’s attitude to the whole situation is, which will hugely colour what you actually say to her. I don’t think what you need right now is scripts, so much as permission to be kind of angry or exasperated with her, but still stay friends with her. And that is OK! You can definitely do that.

    I think you need to acknowledge what your feeling are towards her – pity, yes, but also some frustration or exasperation because you think she’s done some daft things. It is OK to feel like that! It if OK to be annoyed or disappointed or whatever! Figure that out, perhaps rant about it to a third party, and you will probably feel better about approaching Belinda in a supportive fashion without feeling like you’re constantly biting your lip to stop the, “If only you hadn’t!” slipping out.

    When you actually do see Belinda, I think what you want to say to her will need to start from wherever she is. Repentant but practical? Self-justifying? Self-loathing? You haven’t really said anything about her actual attitude, but you’ve kind of implied that she’s going be self-justifying and refusing to acknowledge that her behaviour with Tabitha’s husband was a problem. That may because you know her well and you know how she reacts, but it may equally be because you are cross so you’ve created Self-Justifying Belinda in your head so you can mentally shout at her for being a dickhead. If you meet her and she says, “Man, I’ve been a dickhead. I can’t believe I did that. Ugh, I guess the thing with ex-husband really wrecked my judgment. Anyway, would you might helping me carry boxes / look at apartments?” – you’ve actually got no problem.

    Lastly, I completely agree with the Captain that if you are including “friend’s spouse can’t/didn’t behave decently around her” and “she flirted with Tabitha’s husband” as “problems caused by Belinda’s sexuality”, then you reeeeeally need to look at that again. “Belinda’s sexuality is causing problems by existing in the same space as men who can’t help themselves” is rape-culture logic: Belinda is only responsible for her actions. I am wondering whether you’re including these things together because you think this is part of a bigger pattern of Belinda’s sexual behaviour being a problem – like, you think in general she’s too flirty or too sexual or dates too many people or something. If that’s the case, STOP RIGHT THERE. You need to untangle all that thinking before you try and be a friend to her, because if your support comes with a side-order of judgment for existing whilst female and sexual, you really aren’t going to be a friend to her. I don’t judge you if you do feel a bit like that unconsciously, because we all absorb those messages unconsciously and they take some deliberate untangling, but I probably do judge you if you are consciously thinking those things and continuning to be her friend.

    • LW763 said:

      Oh My Goodness! I hadn’t even thought about your last paragraph in that way! I do NOT blame Belinda for what happened in her last living situation – that was completely beyond her control. I would actually classify it as sexual assault (for more details – her way long ago ex would touch her inappropriately – she did nothing to deserve it. She was just in the same room / house as him existing as a person).
      In her current situation I think it’s more like two lonely people having an emotional affair that spilled over to sexting (but I only have what Belinda has told me to go on). I don’t know the husband’s mind/ It has nothing to do with Belinda being female and sexual around a man that can’t control himself – I think it’s that he seems to *get her* and find her attractive and that is very exciting when going through a period where it seems like nobody gets you or finds you attractive. He needs to be responsible for his contributions too, and I really needed to hear that I was unconsciously putting that on Belinda too!
      Thank you for pointing that out!

      • Mary said:

        Hooray, I am glad that is not what you are thinking. 🙂 Actually, from what you’ve said here, I feel for Belinda too – she’s been (possibly) cheated on, dumped, sexually assaulted – no wonder she is not exactly being her 100% best self right now. But you sound lovely and compassionate and like you have a really clear ethical sense. I hope it works out for you both.

      • oregonbird said:

        LW, do you have enough happening in your own life? I’m not – repeat, very much not – being dismissive of your support for Belinda, but there is knowing a friend is going through a rough period, and there is being deep in the machine. If Belinda is going into this much detail, she is enjoying the drama, which could be a very big factor in her poor decisions — drama llamas will drama., and I’ve learned to sit back and let them get on with it. However, if you are setting aside hours at a time to delve into the onion layers of someone else’s exciting new social life — maybe you deserve to look for a little drama of your own, in a less damaging zip code.

        If there is a sport, or a hobby, or an organization you’ve been interested in joining, maybe take some time off being Belinda’s sounding board and do something you can bring into the conversation as a new, more positive subject. Nothing to object at in quietly modeling good behavior.

    • Been there, done that said:

      I could be quite wrong here but it seems to me that “Belinda’s sexuality” isn’t nearly the problem as her dancing her sexuality in front of Tabitha’s husband by sexting him. On what planet is this at all acceptable? Especially as she is the house guest of he and his wife?

      • “Dancing her sexuality” just to me comes off as such an icky, slut shaming phrase, though. I feel like everyone here (including LW and maybe even Belinda) thinks it’s pretty uncool that Belinda did something she knew would hurt Tabitha when Tabitha was trying to be kind and let her stay.

          • JenniferP said:

            “dancing her sexuality” = “walking from her room to the kitchen” “existing in a female body”

          • LW763 said:

            I can’t nest under the Captain, but when she had to move before it was exactly as the Captain describes – she was in the kitchen washing dishes and he grabbed her butt and breast – there was no “dancing her sexuality” (yuck). She’s from a religion that dresses modestly and I know she wouldn’t do anything / wear or not wear anything to affect the relationship of the wife of the creeper. I know she’s been over this fella for YEARS now, and wouldn’t risk her relationship with the creepers wife.

          • Rose Fox said:

            Okay, so Belinda is coping with being dumped by her husband and then someone else’s husband sexually assaulting her, in the context of a patriarchal religion (= suppressing her needs/desires and being subordinate to men to at least some extent), I can totally see how she’d think “you know what, fuck it, all men are jerks and all marriages are lies and I am just going to do whatever I want without consequences the way men do”.

            I mean, that’s not healthy, but it’s definitely understandable. Poor Belinda. 😦 If she won’t see a therapist, is there such a thing as a counselor of her religion who can help her out without shaming/scolding her and making the problems worse?

          • Annalee said:

            Rose Fox Can’t nest anymore, but the leap from “religion that dresses modestly” to “a patriarchal religion (= suppressing her needs/desires and being subordinate to men to at least some extent)” is an offensive assumption.

            I dress modestly for religious reasons, and my religion doesn’t put me ‘subordinate to men.’

            Dressing modestly is not necessarily a ‘suppression of needs/desires.’ Sometimes it’s an expression of them. Plenty of women who dress modestly for religious reasons are also feminists, and plenty of us have a feminism that is deeply rooted in, not in conflict with, the very religion that informs our modest dress.

            Please do not fall into the trap of assuming that all modestly-dressed women are oppressed, or more oppressed than women in general. It’s dehumanizing.

        • bad at screen names said:

          But Tabitha’s behavior has NOTHING to do with sexuality.

      • Mary said:

        I completely agree that that’s the part of Belinda’s behaviour that is unacceptable, but LW originally said “this is the second time she’s had to move because of sexual reasons” – and then the first time was because the husband was an ex who “making things awkward” for Belinda. That’s the bit that I was referring to. It looked like the LW was classifying the two together as “Belinda’s sexual behaviour causing problems”, but I think from what she’s said above that she meant it as “first her husband dumps her, then this guy assaults her, so it’s understandable that she’s fed up and making bad decisions BUT” rather than them being instances of the same kind of thing.

  13. JennyA said:

    Has Belinda told you what she’s been doing, or has Tabitha’s spouse? Or have you seen evidence, or just figured it out on your own? (Or have you already answered this and I haven’t seen it?)

    I think the level of tact you use with Belinda could vary depending on that. If she’s told you, I’d feel justified in saying something closer to “Well, she’s got a point” regarding Tabitha’s suspicions. If it’s all circumstantial and guesswork, I’d want to be a lot more hands-off; sympathetic towards the moving thing & barely mentioning the emotional affair.

    (Quite happy to be told my ideas are awful, btw!)

    • JenniferP said:

      This is a very good point, about not jumping the gun about information. In this case, however, Belinda is the source: “According to Belinda….” ” When Belinda told me about the flirting / sexting a month or so ago I warned her to be careful because I sort of knew this was going to happen”

      • JennyA said:

        D’oh! That’s what I get for replying before coffee 😉

  14. Dear LW
    The read I get is that you love Belinda and are frustrated by what appears to be self sabotage.

    If that’s true, I vote for the Captain’s scripts, especially the one including “a are you ok?”. And I’d add “maybe now should be all about survival, but I worry about you and maybe soon you can work on why this stuff is happening. I think you’re really vulnerable, and I’d like to see you in safer living spaces”

    It’s tough when friends are too messed up to function well. I say this as a some time screw up myself. (I don’t flirt with people who are involved, but I do self sabotage)

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      Agreed. And if it is self-sabotage (the “letting others know” is a big ol’ red flag— when you’re flirting to get your bone on, you keep it under wraps— she’s either self-sabotaging or wanted rescue from the situation if she spotlighted it), shame will only make it worse. So will not talking about it. My vote is your answer, plus, “Okay, this is a thing that happened, and you can’t change this. What can you do to make your now better?”

      • What can you do to make your now Bette?

        I love this

        • Better NOT Bette.

          Stupid autocorrect

          • Karyn said:

            I dunno. I could use a little more Bette in my now.

        • e271828 said:

          Sounds like their now is a little too Bette… A little more Doris might be good.

          • The Awe Ritual said:

            I am hard-put to remember when I have heard anything more perfect than this.

    • jdrives said:

      This was my take on it, as well. For me personally, I would need to acknowledge and deal with the frustration/angry feelings first, before I could come to the compassionate place that “Are you OK?” comes from. So I second the recommendation elsewhere in the thread for LW to vent to a person-who-does-not-know-these-people about the angry stuff, then approach Belinda to help.

  15. My bestie is one of the loveliest people in the world, and she has mastered the “I support you but WTF” phrase.

    “That’s not the choice I would have made.”

    I love it. There have been times when I’ve sought her out for advice/support whatever following a not-so-great decision. When I ask her what she thinks of it, she’ll have her Mona Lisa smile and say, “Well, that not the choice I would have made.” And, then she asks me an open-ended question and we go from there.

    It sounds like Belinda is coming to you for validation (which, during an ugly divorce and this fallout, I totally get). And, validation on her choices is not something you can give.

    So, when she’s like “I did this thing what do you think?”

    You can say, “I support you and want you to be happy, but that’s not the choice I would have made. What do you think you’re going to do?”

    It’s okay not to support all your friend’s choices. Sometimes, people in shitty situations sometimes make shitty choices (other people have talked about the no-boundaries-no-bueno dudes that are playing a part here). I think Captain’s script checking in on her is an excellent one, because vulnerable people don’t always function the way they normally would.

    You can love Belinda and not always love her choices, but still respect that they are her choices.

    • Minister of Smartassery said:

      Actually, sometimes I just say, “I love you but What The F***?”

      It’s very effective.

    • chas said:

      Thanks for that phrase! I’m definitely using it in the future.

  16. Fangirl said:

    Whoops, that comment posted under the wrong account! The bestie comment is supposed to be me!

  17. Fangirl said:

    (Here it is!)

    My bestie is one of the loveliest people in the world, and she has mastered the “I support you but WTF” phrase.

    “That’s not the choice I would have made.”

    I love it. There have been times when I’ve sought her out for advice/support whatever following a not-so-great decision. When I ask her what she thinks of it, she’ll have her Mona Lisa smile and say, “Well, that not the choice I would have made.” And, then she asks me an open-ended question and we go from there.

    It sounds like Belinda is coming to you for validation (which, during an ugly divorce and this fallout, I totally get). And, validation on her choices is not something you can give.

    So, when she’s like “I did this thing what do you think?”

    You can say, “I support you and want you to be happy, but that’s not the choice I would have made. What do you think you’re going to do?”

    It’s okay not to support all your friend’s choices. Sometimes, people in shitty situations sometimes make shitty choices (other people have talked about the no-boundaries-no-bueno dudes that are playing a part here). I think Captain’s script checking in on her is an excellent one, because vulnerable people don’t always function the way they normally would.

    You can love Belinda and not always love her choices, but still respect that they are her choices.

    • People differ: “that’s not the choice I’d have made” wouldn’t be the right way to say to me in place of “I love you but WTF”

      You see, it sounds condescending to me and as though we are now judging me in comparison to you, and finding me wanting, wanting, wanting.

      But I prefer bluntness, and tend to hear attempts to sound gentle as condescension.

      • Same here. The fact is, I’ve already made the choice and I don’t need someone else to remind me it was a shitty one. Obviously this approach works for some people, but I prefer friends not to comment on it at all. When a friend told me she’d been flirting behind her husband’s back, I could tell she felt bad so didn’t say what I thought about what she did. I just asked how she was planning to move on from the situation and stop it happening again and how I could support her to do that. I was angry with her because I’ve been friends with her husband since before she met him, but I didn’t see what telling her that would achieve.

        • Fangirl said:

          I totally get what you mean, and I think that’s relevant. If someone is just seeking support or advice, bringing up the fact that you don’t agree with their choice isn’t helpful. The phrase particularly works when you’re asking someone’s opinion on your choices. Like, “I know my choice was a shitty one, but if you say it wasn’t, then maybe it wasn’t!” So, yeah, I think that it’s useful when people are seeking validation for their choices.

          And, honestly, my friend is amazing at being gentle without sounding condescending. It’s truly an art, and one that I haven’t mastered. Bluntness suits me better. But, with her, I appreciate the fact that she’ll call me out and then help me sort through the mess, rather than pretend she agreed with my terrible decision.

      • neverjaunty said:

        Yeah, this…. I get that your friend delivers in a particular way and you receive it in that spirit, but it’s very hard to hear that as anything other than “Hey, let’s make this conversation about how superior I am to you.”

  18. LD said:

    “Everybody makes mistakes sometimes. Good job being really ambitious about it, buddy!”

    Sorry, just had to LOL at that.

    • JenniferP said:

      Some people (like me) respond better to gentle, loving mocking rather than straight sympathy so I try to put that out there. If I super messed up at something and am embarrassed, being nice to me will make me cry (especially if a man does it) but being like “snap out of it, jerk” will make me feel better because if the person is able to mock me on some level I’m still equal/part of the team.

      Welcome to my weird brain. 🙂

      • boutet said:

        YES! Yeah, nice things make me cry and run away.

      • Jane said:

        This is a very interesting insight — I have had this experience several times (though for me it’s pretty intensely localized to male persons) and found it bewildering (i.e. when a male friend told me that I deserved to be with a good person, I spent the rest of the night curled up in a ball crying.) I think the Jerkbrain activates its most vigorous defenses in response to obvious niceness (“IT’S A TRAP! FULL DEFENSES! WE WON’T BE CAUGHT UNAWARES BY A MALEFACTOR! ONLY A LYING LIAR WHO LIES WOULD DARE MALIGN THE TRUTH, WHICH IS THAT WE ARE THE WORST PERSON EVER TO PERSONIFY! I, YOUR HONORABLE JERKBRAIN, AM ONLY PROTECTING YOU FROM HAVING YOUR LIVER EATEN ON TOAST!”) which is, uh, maladaptive, perhaps?

        Compare to the (also male) friend who said very gravely, “Yes, you are pretty terrible, what vegetable shall we have with the pasta tonight,” (paraphrased) while on a bike ride when I some spontaneously unloaded during a moment of a distress. No crying was occasioned.

        I fear this comment hasn’t any extra useful input. It’s just interesting that I had never made a connection between “unsettling emotional reaction I have” and “thing that happens to other people” and most important “thing I can probably live with.”

        • Ace said:

          I don’t know if your comment has any extra input either, but I still love it. It manages to articulate words that I so often can’t when my Jerkbrain gets started- and why I would have had the exact same response as you…. And I really had nothing to say but to tell you that your comment hit my hard in a good way… Thank you.

      • LD said:

        Oh, I totally get it. I’m much the same way, only directed at myself/my circumstances. “Well car, if you were going to need parts replaced, at least it was several things at once so I don’t have to keep going back to the mechanic!” “If you were trying for a mess, self, you have done a fabulous job of it. No one spills drinks as thoroughly as you.”

        I really like that you include this approach.

  19. E said:

    I have a friend (lawyer) whose BIL recently drove drunk and crashed into a family of four, killing the father and putting the two kids in intensive care for a while. Due to the fact the cops did not breathalyze BIL on the scene (sent him to hospital immediately) and due to the fact that my lawyer friend then invoked HIPAA, the cops cannot charge him with drunk driving because they have no proof.

    I believe the family can still file a civil suit, and my friend made some comments like “Hopefully they are a good Christian family and don’t see the point in ruining two lives over one.” My comment to him whenever he asked me anything about it was “I think whatever the family does; they are in their complete right to do.” or “I don’t know; I’m not the best person to ask about this.” Yes, it’s kinda non-committal, but it was the only answer I could give due to my incredibly mixed feelings.

    • Megan M. said:

      WHOA. I don’t want to say your friend is a shitty person, but he sure said some shitty things. That poor mom and kids; my heart goes out to them.

      • Myrin said:

        Yes really, I’m full of “Wow.” right now, to be honest. “ruining two lives over one” like the father didn’t even matter and his death can’t really be considered something that is worth trying to get someone arrested for. Not to mention that “death” and “going to jail because of causing a death” aren’t really in the same realm of “ruined” at all. Wow.

      • E said:

        Yeah, that’s why I was … really mixed about what to say when he asked me. I’ve known this guy for 14 years, but at the same time since it was his BIL I couldn’t go full “ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW”

        • Mayati said:

          Keep in mind that if he’s acting as a defense lawyer to the BIL, he’s not operating under ordinary moral codes, he’s operating under his state bar’s formal code of professional ethics. So he has a duty to represent the BIL “zealously” (meaning doing what’s legally and ethically permissible and advisable) regardless of his personal morals, or else he can withdraw from the case.

          So I’m weirded out that he’s asking YOU what you think. You’re not a lawyer, right? So why’s he asking you a professional ethical question? Even if he’s ethically OK but his personal morals are squicked out, he should talk to another lawyer about it to get perspective. And he probably shouldn’t be telling you this stuff at all unless his BIL has said it’s okay, because lawyer-client confidentiality probably applies.

          But you gave exactly the right response. Your friend sounds really conflicted, and like maybe he wants someone to tell him what he did was okay, and you’re not the person to tell him that, for multiple reasons. I hope this helps you feel less mixed about what you said and what you can say in the future.

          (And tbh if HIPAA applies, the hospital shouldn’t need a lawyer to tell them to comply with it, they should do it already — so your friend’s invocation of HIPAA shouldn’t have had any effect at all. HIPAA exists so that people get the emergency healthcare they need without being worried about things like prosecution. It’s not a loophole.)

          Sorry if this is too off track! None of this is legal advice, but this is a really good example of when a friend should say “I’m not actually a good person to talk to about this.” Sometimes you might not have the full context to say whether someone’s action was good or bad, and you usually shouldn’t have to.

          • E said:

            He’s not the defense attorney in an official capacity (his firm doesn’t do criminal law) – he was just there to assess the situation as a family member before they could hire one (that he could recommend).

            I think he was asking me because I have been his friend for 14 years and have also known his wife (sister of brother) since they started dating back in college. I’m not 100% sure of the HIPAA thing because last update I heard, the police still had not charged him (like…3-4 weeks later?) and he attributed it to that.

          • neverjaunty said:

            Yes, this is all very weird. HIPAA doesn’t mean the police are powerless, it means they have to go through certain procedures to get the records of things like the blood draw which would show his BAC. A delay in charging the dude doesn’t mean they are powerless or the DA has decided not to bring charges.

            And regardless of whether this person was acting as a ‘family friend’ and interim lawyer, attorney-client privilege applies and he has an ethical obligation to keep his mouth shut. You are definitely in the right to tell him you don’t want to discuss this, and if it were me, I’d be adding that maybe he should STFU because doesn’t he want to keep his bar card?

    • mythbri said:

      I barely know what to say about this, but WTF.

    • Vicki said:

      Yes, your comments are non-committal, but if your friend brought it up again after you already said that you support whatever the family does, he’s in some weird way asking for you to tell you that what he did was okay. By now I would at least be at the point of “I’m not going to discuss this. Read any good books lately?”

      Making someone pay financial restitution strikes me as an odd definition of “ruining someone’s life,” and I might point out that no, there are at least four lives involved, and that restitution might help mend the lives of the two children who had to spend time in intensive care. But if I said any fraction of what I felt about the situation as described, it would almost certainly end the friendship.

    • Light37 said:

      I’m not sure I could have been that kind. My response probably would have included words like murder and scumbag.

      • Sparky said:

        I’m ok with BIL’s life being ruined, whatever that might mean. Totally ok with that.

        • Mary said:

          I am boggling at the idea that you can kill someone, and what happens *after* that determines whether or not your life is ruined. I feel pretty strongly that if I was stupid enough to drink-drive, and unlucky enough to kill someone, the life-ruining would already have happened.

          Ditto for all those awful people who think that reporting or prosecuting a rapist is “ruining someone’s life”.

          • Light37 said:

            I was thinking about Steubenville, and the reporters who whined on about how these two young men’s lives had been tragically ruined. Because, you know, sexually assaulting an unconcious person and filming it doesn’t count as much as the fact that they were good students and football players.

    • Minister of Smartassery said:

      Yeah, I don’t want to dog pile but your friend sucks. Not as much as his BIL, but he still sucks. A good Christian family? Even that’s even a consideration, a good Christian man would own up to the fact that he committed a crime, make amends, try to provide care/resources for the family that he left without a father. He wouldn’t hide behind the lawyer in his family, hide behind the law that wasn’t meant protect people who drink and get behind the wheel of a car, or try to cover his butt and his assets and hope that he didn’t have to take accountability for the fatal mistake he made. Your friend may be acting in a professional capacity, but he doesn’t seem to grasp the concept that his BIL SHOULD be held accountable for what he’s done. He shouldn’t just skip off into the sunset, singing, “PHEW, that was a close one!”

      If he asks again, please tell what you really think.

  20. LW763 said:

    Thank you all for your comments, and a BIG thanks to the Captain for posting and answering my question.
    I’d really like Belinda to admit that what she’s doing (in the situation with Tabitha) is wrong BUT I realize (after reading the comments) that it’s not my place to make her admit that. I really don’t want to “I told you so” Belinda, so I haven’t said anything to her after her latest message (about Tabitha feeling threatened). I just don’t have the spoons to take on her issues right now on top of my own. The specific issue being “Can you believe what Tabitha is saying / doing?!” because Yes, I can believe what she’s doing – it’s exactly what I’d be doing. I know she’s in a tough spot right now, and she doesn’t need finding a new place to live and my judgement (plus she just had pretty major surgery) on top of the already precariously perched pile, but she’s brought this one on herself, and I think it may keep repeating itself until she realizes what’s happening. I feel like she’s *trying* to self-destruct, and I want to help her if I can.

    • Make sure you’re taking time and energy for yourself, LW. It doesn’t make you a bad friend at all if you need to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others, or if you’re just not in a place to be able to help at the minute.

    • twomoogles said:

      I have had luck in the past, when my friends make decisions I don’t agree with and then say something like “Can you believe what Tabitha is doing”, is saying something like “Do you want my advice or do you want to vent?” If the answer is “I want your advice” then you can say something like “well, to be honest if I were in Tabitha’s position I would also be doing X”. If she says “I just want to vent” you can decide how much venting you can deal with before you say “OK, I can’t hear about this anymore”. And “how much” can be “zero”.

      I am often the advice-giver friend, so I end up in this place a lot!

      • erica said:

        This is such good advice!

    • Courtney said:

      “I’d really like Belinda to admit that what she’s doing (in the situation with Tabitha) is wrong…”

      I’d file this under “Possible Future Business.” You say that your friend Belinda is a good person with a moral/ethical compass that is normally calibrated such that this behavior is something she normally wouldn’t do. You know her, and I don’t. If your read on her is correct, she may be open to talking about the ethics of the situation with Tabitha later. Much later.

      Right now, your friend is in crisis. Her housing situation is unstable, she is going through a painful divorce, and you mentioned major surgery. Is there a single thing in her life that isn’t unstable/upside down? Now is not the time for the kind of discussion. If that discussion is possible, it will be after your friend is in a stable living situation and she has had some time to heal from the pain and upheaval she is currently experiencing.

      She may never be ready to talk about this with you. It may be that once she is back to “herself,” she will feel ashamed for her behavior towards Tabitha and won’t want to revisit it at all. But, yeah, IF this conversation is ever possible, it won’t be for a while.

      • Charlene said:

        This. I think Belinda’s normal meter is horribly miscalibrated.

  21. Polychrome said:

    Have a lot of people managed negotiating this successfully? This reminds me a lot, a LOT, of a set of interactions I had with a dear friend several years ago who was having an affair with a married guy. I could totally understand why she fell for him, I was really sympathetic about the whole slow slide into getting it on, but then when she really confided in me about what the affair looked like on a day to day basis — which involved him weirdly going out of his way to include her in family occasions, so that the upshot was that she was going along on outings with his kids all the time, sitting down to eat meals his wife had prepared, and *not* in an aboveboard “hey we’re poly” way but a “his wife has no idea” way (though probably not… NO idea, as the wife was not really into building a friendship with my friend, probably because some kind of strange halo was evident to her)

    I started to feel my own worldview slide a bit sideways, like, (a) I started to think the guy was a total creep — and started re-evaluating other things she had told me about him on that basis; (b) I couldn’t reconcile my view of my friend as a good person with what she was involved in, other than on the grounds of “this total creep has managed to get her to compromise herself”; and (c) I started to feel weirdly insulted that she was sharing all of this with me, when she had pointedly avoided sharing it with other people to whom I knew she was closer. It felt like she wanted to keep their respect, but somehow her sense that it was okay to let me see the seamy underside of everything was less a tribute to me than evidence that she didn’t care as much about our relationship.

    Anyway. I did say something along the lines of, “I can totally understand the affair, but I don’t get going to family dinners”. I mean that was the extent of my expressing disapproval… but I think it was enough. The friendship cooled a lot in the years that followed. I don’t know. I don’t have advice here, just — my own experience with something similar didn’t go well at all.

      • Polychrome said:

        Thanks. I am still sad about the demise of that friendship but now have the balm of knowing it all could have been much worse — it could have involved multiple acapella renditions of Bridge Over Troubled Water being seared into my long term memory. There but for the grace of God 🙂

        • JenniferP said:

          P.S. May have emailed you. ❤

  22. I can’t help but wondering if this current situation isn’t some sort of backlash/rebound post divorce thing. I know as a lady person who was raised in the patriarchy, sometimes it is really helpful for me to get sexual attention from men. I know. I know. It’s super un feminist. But someone else thinking that I am attractive can really boost my spirits. But it can give me both a sense of power and satisfaction, which may be two things she is lacking right now.

    I can’t help but wonder if her current situation isn’t partly inspired by getting a real kick from someone, not her ex husband and not some creep, thinking she is awesome and sexy. I know someone else said it may be self sabatoge, but, it may also just be convenience, maybe she doesn’t really think she’s ready for dating, but needs to get some positive attention from somewhere.

    She may not be ready for dating, and I know she has her living situation to figure out. But she might find some less drama filled ways to get that kind of attention online. Tinder might be a good option, okcupid, reddit also has some subs that can be fun ways to meet people in an online flirting context (happy to make suggestions).

    It sounds to me like she is ready for at the very least some sexting, if not casually dating, just to get her groove back. And maybe you should encourage her to do that with people who aren’t married to her current housemate.

    (Obviously therapy etc, would be a healthier alternative but LW said she wont do this. So I can’t help but think that finding sexy outlets that are not roommate adjacent might help. There are lots of fish in the sea that aren’t already married and going to get you kicked out.)

    • bad at screen names said:

      I consider myself a feminist, and, yeah, I don’t think it’s gross to admit that she likely feels very vulnerable and the inappropriate texts are probably giving her some validation she feels she needs. It doesn’t make it okay, but getting dumped from a major relationship is hard to cope with, and soem people make the wrong decisions as a result.

      • Oh good. Yeah I agree, I don’t think there is anything wrong with seeking that kind of validation, as long as you do it in a way that isn’t hurting people. Which is the part she is failing at right now. So maybe encouraging her to find it in a healthier way would help?

        That doesn’t mean what she’s done is okay, but beating her up over it is not going to help.

    • LdyEkt said:

      I really like this grouping of ideas. Personally, I have more casual sex after a bad breakup. It does give me that feeling that I still “have it.”
      Going to sex parties with someone you trust (I’m not suggesting that the LW be this person! At all! In fact I’m suggesting the LW NOT be that person.) can be another validating non-internet way of accessing that. Though, they are not available in all areas and Belinda should definitely vet the organizer first if this is a path that she wants to pursue.

    • Yeah, I definitely had the post break up moment of ‘I’m gonna buy this cute as hell dress and go out dancing and dance at attractive men’ moment and I think it’s absolutely normal to react to the end of a relationship (a marriage! Poor her, it must be awful) by proving to yourself that Someone Else Will Want Me. Has Belinda chosen a healthy way to do this? No, unquestionably. But is this almost certainly a reaction to a great deal of pain? Yes.

      You say, LW, that Belinda won’t go to a therapist. As she’s religious, I would ask about her seeing a pastor-eqiuvalent (perhaps a pastor’s wife equivalent? A woman might feel more comfortable to her) and then I would make it clear that you cannot fill that role. You can’t offer her help in working out why she has to move etc etc because you are probably going to be an ass to her about it.

      You can, however, be the Head of Team Belinda. Could you put a weekly date on the calendar? Can you be a source of nice things and emotional support and affirmation while she tries to rebuild her life post marriage? Maybe you guys could watch Project Runway or Grand Designs or something and talk about design and fashion and fun things and give her a space away from ‘I’m newly single and I’m house hunting and oh wow everything is falling apart’.

      Much love to the both of you. Kindness and affection and time will heal this, I think.

    • erica said:

      Getting attention is nice. Getting flirted with is nice. It’s a stroke to the ego, regardless of what sex/gender you or the other person has going on. There’s nothing un-feminist about wanting to feel attractive and awesome and sexy. This is a completely normal human desire and there’s nothing wrong with it.

      Acting on it by flirting/sexting with someone who’s in a mono relationship is pretty uncool. But again, nothing to do with feminism one way or another, as far as I can see.

      • twomoogles said:

        Yeah, I agree it’s a normal human desire; I doubt it’s only women who feel this way (though may feel it more due to socialization about women needing to be attractive etc…) I think it’s really common for the post-breakup stages to be something like “feeling awful, sitting inside the house in the same clothes for three days—->nope, I’m awesome and want others to see that too!”

  23. Meredith said:

    There’s definitely a way to talk to her about this with compassion and without judgment. If you can approach it from a position of love and concern and make it clear that you love her but are worried about the decisions she’s been making, it can help get the message through. I recently had to have a conversation like this with my best friend who, in her anger over her husband’s infidelity, made some poor, hypocritical decisions. I started slow with a few “Are you ok? What’s going on?” questions and “Are you sure that’s the decision you want to make?” comments/questions when she was in the thick of it, then finally a come-to-Jesus, “I can see that you are very unhappy and that it’s causing you to act out. I love you and I’m not going anywhere, but I’m starting to see you making bad decisions and I know that this is not the person that you want to be. I’m worried that you’re becoming bitter.” Like you, LW, I KNOW she’s a good person – she just gets stuck on her own pain sometimes and needs to be shaken out of it. She took it well – she knew I was right and appreciated that I called her out. Divorce is a bitch and we all make dumb decisions sometimes. A true friend is one that can hold you accountable to your best self.

    • klopidq said:

      Wow, nicely said.

    • e271828 said:

      This is a compassionate, useful answer, and excellent guidance to keep in mind for many situations.

  24. Aurora said:

    Going easy on Belinda here seems strange. From my read of the letter, she actively advances on married or otherwise involved men, so basically she seems to be getting a thrill out of being The Other Woman. This is her fault, and while it takes two to tango, it takes *two*, and Belinda has decided to be one of the two each time.

    Can she live alone? It seems like no matter who she’s with, she might cause drama with the person somehow, especially if they have a romantic partner.

    • JenniferP said:

      In the first example, the married man advanced on her and she noped out of there. She did NOT decide to be one of the two (and the LW reconfirmed that in the comments).

      In the second example, we don’t know who advanced, but Belinda definitely participated in it. Which is not cool. It sounds like living alone is probably the way to go, but I don’t think both events are so directly linked.

      • LW763 said:

        The Captain is right here. Belinda did NOT cause the first encounter. Once it happened she saddled her Nopetopus and rode into the sunset.

        • Aurora said:

          Oh gosh I’m a dumb. I read this wrong: “Belinda dated this family member’s spouse years ago. The spouse apparently hadn’t moved on from his feelings and made things awkward for Belinda and her family member.”

          I for some reason saw the first sentence as “this event, which happened years ago, involved Belinda dating this family member’s spouse.” As in, she started it by dating him while he was involved. Now everything makes 200% more sense.

  25. attica said:

    In the more general sense of ‘how to tell friends they’re in the wrong’, my circle and I use the notion of the “Get-a-grip Friend.” As in, “Buddy, I’m’a gonna be your Get-a-grip Friend right now and tell you that a t-shirt with a profane slogan cannot be worn to the PTA meeting.” Or, “Dearest, I’m speaking as your Get-a-Grip Friend: Do Not text your Darth ex. Give me your phone, right now. The urge will pass in just a little while”

    • JenniferP said:

      USEFUL FRIEND.

  26. Manders said:

    LW, you sound like a sweet and compassionate person who genuinely wants what’s best for Belinda. I too used to spend a lot of time listening to friends complain about situations of their own making, and it can be draining in a way that’s hard to notice until burnout sneaks up on you. I eventually did have to learn how to be blunter about not wanting to hear any more about certain subjects in the moment, and I had to start turning down invites to vent-fests when I was already feeling frustrated with that friend.

    Do spend some time taking care of your own mental health, whatever that looks like for you. And don’t feel like taking care of Belinda means listening to whatever she wants to talk about endlessly–it really is ok to step in and redirect the conversation when you’ve had enough. People, especially people who were raised as women, are often taught not to speak up about their own needs when someone else is more obviously in pain, but it’s an important skill to (re)learn.

  27. Vicki said:

    LW, Based on your follow-up comments, it would also be entirely reasonable for you to say something like “I know that’s hard, but right now what I need is either someone to talk to about what’s going on in my life, or a Mutual Distraction Friend. Are you up to hearing about my problems, or would you rather go to a movie together?”

    That’s not judgmental, but it does say “I don’t have the energy for another round of hearing about Tabitha.”

  28. stellanor said:

    I think sometimes the right script is “Friend, I love you, but WHAT ARE YOU DOING because from here it kind of looks like the Bad Decision Road Show.”

    I’m pretty blunt though. YMMV.

    • Mh said:

      Me too, I am very direct and have never lost a friend over it – that I know of. I guess my operating philosophy, as it were, is that being a yes man/woman =/= being a good friend. Friends have told me that they value knowing I will give them my honest opinion.

      My script would be “I know you think Tabitha feels threatened by you, and maybe there’s a grain of truth to that. I know I would feel threatened by someone who flirted with my husband in my own home. I also wonder if she senses the way you feel about her, I mean, you have said you think she is a bad wife/mother and that kind of strong opinion isn’t easy to hide.”

      • Alex said:

        I think the older I get (and the more questionable decisions I rack up), the more I appreciate the friends who will fight through the discomfort to be direct and honest. I think you reach a point where you can see the difference between someone hurting your feelings out of meaness and someone hurting your feelings out of love. Realising that maybe those hurt feelings are directly related to how much truthiness has just been dropped on me may be one of the biggest learning curves I’ve experienced. I think deciding to put aside the hurt feelings that come from someone you love questioning your judgement to openly listen to them is something valuable to learn.

        • And yet, everybody I have spent any amount of time around who has been openly proud of their bluntness and willingness to risk hurting people’s feelings in the name of total honesty and always saying just what they think … has turned out to be someone I now avoid because their presence made me feel like I was trapped in an endless game of verbal paintball. While being myself disarmed.

          I accept that none of you are like this. But you all have a certain tone of “we, brave truth-speakers, are not as you sad, fragile little flowers who must be spoken to with tact and gentleness in order to hear the important truths of this world.”

          To adopt that tone … it is not the choice I would make.

      • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

        I’ve lost a friend over saying ‘I’m not sure what to think about [complex situation]’. Apparently I should have condemned [one party] outright and without giving them the benefit of doubt.

        If someone doesn’t want to be friends anymore, they’ll find a way to withdraw 😦

  29. thebewilderness said:

    The aspect of this that is going to take time and sorting for you, LW, is the discovery that your bestie is not a trustworthy person. That may be the reason you seem to be identifying with Tabitha. A person you have never met.
    Being a friend to Belnda is important, but self care is essential when you get this sort of emotional jolt.

  30. sara said:

    I have a good friend who did some similarly sketchy things in the midst/aftermath of her divorce (somewhat different details, but similar cheating-adjacent stuff that I really disagreed with). My first response (not very productive) was to actively try to talk her out of it, get her to see the light, etc. which ultimately really had no effect. Eventually I basically told her — look, you know how I feel about this. I want to support you because you are my friend, but if we keep talking about this, I cannot do that. So we need to talk about things that are not this cheating-adjacent situation. She was actually very cool about not bringing up said dude to me anymore and focusing on other stuff.

  31. Britta said:

    One other idea no one else seems to have suggested: have you tried laughing at her?

    STORY TIME: Shortly after my divorce I ended up out of an evening with a new friend. At the start of the night someone spilled a glass of red wine over me, and I had to power on with a ruined dress. We all carried on to a club and my memory gets fuzzy here from the drinking and the embarrassment, but I apparently propositioned someone quite publicly, and refused to accept his ‘but I’m getting married next month’ reply as an acceptable answer.

    My new friend carried me home and spent the next day, as we nursed our hangovers, teasing me for being an idiot. Which is completely fair comment! And also correct. I can only offer up my punch-drunk post-divorce mental state combined with over-refreshment for being such a &^%$%*&(%%^. But my new friend has proved himself a very good one by 1) making it quite clear I’d disgraced myself 2) making it quite clear what he thought of such behaviour 3) not beating me over the head about it. “Well of course he turned your covered-in-booze not-his-fiancée ass down, you idiot! What did you expect? OMG I need more coffee, let’s go here.”

    I think if your friend is behaving out of character something like the steps above might be the best way to handle this – let her know gently that she’s out of line, but don’t go too far. If she complains about her housing problems, laugh! “Well of course you need to find somewhere new to live, you idiot, what did you expect?” And then change the subject.

    I told the story of that night to another friend who’s since proved herself to be a bad friend to me – in that she has shunned me completely since getting engaged, presumably because she thinks I’m going to try to steal her man. If she wants to punish me forever for one bad night, that’s her right, but it’s unkind and doesn’t sound like the person you LW763 are trying to be.

    I wish you luck!

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