She had all the telltale signs of a woman in love.
There was the the perma-smile, the upbeat attitude, the sudden loss of appetite and the ever-present glow that can’t be faked with cosmetics.
I wanted to be happy for her. After all, she had been slugging it out in the singleton trenches for as long as I had. But the problem was I didn’t trust her new beau as far as I could throw him… and with good reason.
I knew her boyfriend from back in the day. We even dated briefly in college and he wasn’t exactly what I would call a follow-through guy. You know the kind — comes on strong, keeps up the charm till you’re good and smitten and then without warning, does a 180 and retreats so far back emotionally you wonder what the cold-hearted bastard is made of.
A part of me wanted to speak up and warn her. But in the end, I decided to give her new man/my old flame the benefit of the doubt. I mean people act differently in relationships with different partners, right? Maybe I just wasn’t the one for him.
I also factored in the time that had elapsed — it had more than 10 years since I hung out with him. So I thought, “Who knows? Perhaps he’s grown as a person since our college days together.” I was wrong. About two months into the relationship, he cut her loose in the cruelest of fashions: left her hanging at Christmas — no calls, no explanation, no nothing.
She was devastated. I was riddled with guilt. Could I, should I have done things differently?
I mean it’s been my experience that people only hear what they want to hear. Furthermore, every time I’ve spoken my mind about a friend’s date that she’s not ready to get rid of, it’s only caused awkward tension between me and that friend. So the question is: Is there a right way to tell your friend she’s dating a dick?
Relationship expert Dr. Susan Campbell says yes. The best way to start off is with a pre-conversation. That way you can sniff out exactly how much honesty your friend expects and/or wants from you.
“You don’t want to just bust in and say, ‘I think he’s a jerk,’” says Campbell, who holds a PhD in clinical psychology. “I think the first conversation might need to go something like, ‘We’re really good friends and I want to have the kind of relationship with you where I can say whatever I think and feel even if it’s none of my business. Do you want that kind of relationship with me?’”
If, and when, you get the green light for honesty, make sure your opinion is based on facts. Hunches and hearsay won’t do when you’re dealing with other people’s personal business.
“I don’t believe in passing on second-hand information,” says Campbell, who has written several books on the subject of honest communication including, Getting Real, Truth in Dating and her latest, Saying What’s Real. “Give specific examples — either something you actually saw [like him in the arms of another woman] or things you remember hearing from her own mouth. So you could say something like, ‘You’ve told me three times that you wanted to break up with this person and then every time you see him, you change your mind.’”
Those are familiar words for Allen, who is living proof that there are just as many male victims of love as there are female. He dated the same evil woman off and on for more than a year. Several friends tried to warn him about her, but he wouldn’t listen.
“She was a manipulative liar, which other people saw, but of course I refused to see it — I was in denial,” admits the freelance writer from Madison, WI. “I remember Mary [a friend] telling me that she didn’t trust [evil woman] because she had met her at a party where [evil woman] was all over all kinds of guys.”
Dave, another buddy, wasn’t as kind in his assessment of Allen’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. He repeatedly told Allen, in no uncertain terms, that she was no good and that it was time to move on — something that Allen wasn’t prepared to do at the time.
“After that I was kind of leery about running into to Dave when I with her,” says Allen. “I felt like he was judging me because we had had multiple discussions on the subject.”
This is an example of why Campbell warns against making blatant judgment calls. You risk alienating your friend.
“I wouldn’t tell the person ‘I think you should dump him or her,’” warns Campbell.”[After you've stated your opinion], just give your feelings with phrases like, ‘I’m afraid that you’re going to get hurt …’, ‘I’m concerned that you….’ or ‘I’m worried that you….’ And leave it at that because really, at that point you’ve done your job. So just honor yourself for taking a big risk on behalf of the friendship.”
And in the case of my friend and the non-committal goof who broke her heart?
“I think a lot of times people do have to play it out and do their own thing anyway, so she might have acted exactly the same way [even if you had warned her],” says Campbell, before adding, “But then again, you might have saved yourself some guilt.”