Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared in 2003.
Carolyn: One of my best friends is planning to marry next year and I need to stop her. We’ve all been part of a group of friends for several years, and what troubles us is a sense of desperation (we’re only 23, for heaven’s sake!) and co-dependency between them. She is getting married because she’s scared of being alone and needs constant reassurance that she is loved, etc. We theorize that his reasons for asking her have to do with trying to get her to stop (a) talking about her ex-boyfriend; and (b) asking him to prove his love for her.
They are both fun, lovely, interesting people when they’re not together, but have become quite defensive about their engagement (although my friend constantly writes me emails about other men she wants to sleep with and then rationalizes this as OK). Do you have any suggestions for what I or our group can do to help them reconsider, or at least not rush headlong into what we think may be a massive mistake?
No, Must Not Intervene, and you do not “need to stop her.” Top 4 reasons, in no particular order:
(1) If they are defensive, then they already know how you feel. All of you. Fully.
(2) They may be “only 23,” but they are 23.
(3) Any opinion that follows the words “we” and “think” is automatically suspect.
(4) Maybe they’re really in love.
Even if you’re right and they are making a massive mistake, there are worse things than making massive mistakes.
Among them, oftentimes: not making massive mistakes. When the consequences are dire or when the wayward friend grows receptive to outside opinions, then, yes, it’s important for friends to speak up. But the possible consequences here – unhappiness, insecurities propagating unchecked, divorce, even joint custody – aren’t dire. Tough, yes, but survivable. And for those who insist on learning the hard way, “tough” and “survivable” are an educational pair. Someday, she might see this as the most useful screw-up of her life.
Besides, if curing her were simply a matter of finding the magic combination of words, I sense your peer group would have stumbled upon it 17 concerned conversations ago.
This is not to say you have to feign support for the wedding. Quite the opposite. A true friend is a genuine one, and that means you can voice your concerns – when asked, or at least when provoked. Those emails about sleeping with other guys in particular demand some friendly disgust.
Likewise, you can support her completely without condoning her actions. Just make it clear that, even if you think she’s completely out of her mind, you’ll stand by her through any honest (emphasis encouraged) attempt to find bliss.
Carolyn: Is it enough, when two people come from very different backgrounds, to enjoy the way they are together and disregard the rest?
Cruel Life Joke No. 12: Differences heighten attraction, but they chip away slowly at love. Whether the reasons you like each other are lasting ones, or whether you even want them to last, I have no idea. Just make sure romance and great chemistry aren’t the things you “enjoy,” and kindness, ease and a common purpose aren’t the ones you dismiss as “the rest.”
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.