When You Think Your Friend’s Engagement is a Mistake

When You Think Your Friend’s Engagement is a Mistake

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This month’s HerTake question asks when it’s acceptable to give a close friend unsolicited advice about her impending marriage, especially if you think the marriage would be a huge mistake. Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

Dear Nina,

A close friend of mine is getting remarried after her marriage ended last year and I think she’s making a terrible mistake.

First, she moved on (very quickly!) to a long-distance relationship that requires her constant travel; this has been hard on her, her local family and friends, and her own minor children.

But the bigger issue is that I don’t like her fiancé at all and none of her other local friends do, either. I’m ashamed to admit we’ve discussed this behind her back not to be cruel or gossipy, but because we don’t know how to handle this dicey situation.

(For the record, because he lives elsewhere, she was already in love by the time we met him, and we didn’t have an opportunity to express our feelings early on.)

My gut instinct is to say it’s none our business, but I know my friend trusts me and that she values my opinion; by saying nothing, I’ve given her the impression I not only approve of, but like her intended.

If she follows through with her wedding plans, I’ll do my best to support her, but I’ll also be setting myself up (and my husband) for an uncomfortable future: she expects us to continue a close friendship as couples and we have no desire to socialize with him at all.

My total honesty would force her to choose and I know she’d choose him. But it would also break her heart. I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place.

Signed,
To Give My Unsolicited Opinion or Stay Quiet?

 

Dear To Give My Unsolicited Opinion or Stay Quiet,

Oh boy, this is a tough one. You’re clearly a loving, dedicated friend, and I’m sure it’s been extremely difficult to watch your friend decide to get married so quickly after her divorce. The constant travel and knowing it’s been hard on the kids doesn’t help either.

Unfortunately, my gut instinct is the same as yours that you should not interfere in a direct way. If your friend is indeed making a mistake, she will only acknowledge it as a mistake if she is forced to go through the process of seeing so for herself. I fear if you or her other friends try to stop the marriage and she ends up calling off the wedding, she will always have a “what if” scenario in her mind in regards to this man. He may take up a place in her imagination as “the one who got away,” making her forget his faults or encouraging her to idealize whatever virtues he possesses. (He must possess some.)

I want to also mention that my mother, who I often consult for my own advice needs, has always expressed a strong opinion about minding one’s own business in matters of the heart. Before I told her about your situation, I guessed that she would advise you to stay out of it, but just in case I asked her to react to your question without knowing my opinion. I think my mom came up with a good way to potentially get your friend to discuss any doubts about the relationship, hopefully before the wedding takes place though there are no guarantees.

Here’s what my mom said: “In my opinion, what this woman should do is stay silent. As she correctly perceives, her friend will choose the fiancé over her. There is nothing she can do to prevent the marriage and will probably lose the friendship if she says anything. If the friend asks her opinion, she can always say it is not her decision and continue to say nothing negative. If, on the other hand, the friend expresses doubts, she can always start asking questions about what is fueling the doubts while still not expressing her own opinion. This question is a variation on the one of whether you should tell a friend if her husband is being unfaithful. I am in the camp that minding one’s own business is the best way to go.”

One last thought: I wonder if your friend already knows how you feel. It’s a good possibility since you’re close and she can probably “read” you. She is likely determined to set her own path whether or not her friends approve. As for having to spend time with your friend and her husband-to-be as a couple, I can at least give you some proactive advice for that problem. As you find ways to not spend time together as a couple, increase the time you spend with her alone so that the message is clear you want to keep her in our life, but it’s going to be more as a twosome than a foursome. I know it’s easier said than done.

I wish I could tell you something that would alleviate your anxiety over the situation. Ultimately, for better or worse, I do think your friend’s fate with this man is out of your hands.

With warmth,
Nina

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20 comments

  1. Caroline says:

    I was in this situation several years ago. The fiance was TERRIBLE on many levels. I hesitated to say anything until about 3 weeks before the wedding when she commented “You know, if he doesn’t actually go out and find a job, I may have to divorce him.” I very carefully told her that she didn’t have to marry him. She did, of course. He continued to a) be terrible and b) not seek any employment while c) she worked 3 jobs to support the two of them. And I pretty much dropped the friendship because he was so awful. They divorced about four years later. I would say that you have to be careful about how you say something, but it’s not the worst thing to say it. She will figure it out on her own eventually. P.S. Four years later, she is living a much better life!

  2. As always, Nina, I’m impressed by your thoughtful, thorough advice. In my opinion, two things will happen if this woman keeps her opinion to herself:

    1. Her friend and her new husband will have a successful marriage in which case any interference prior would have been a shame.

    2. Her friend and her new husband will end up unhappy, at which point her friend will need her support more than ever. Whom will the friend turn to? The ones who’ve always been in her corner. No matter what.

    I suppose it’s never easy to watch someone you love make choices with which you don’t agree. But sometimes, people have to make their own mistakes to learn life’s hard lessons.
    julie gardner recently posted…A Modest (Writing) ProposalMy Profile

  3. Oof! This is a tough call. I agree that it’s best to be a good friend by supporting her friend, even though she doesn’t agree with her friend’s decision. (We often have to do this in our relationships — whether it’s a child, parent, spouse, or sibling!)
    On a positive note, I was facing a similar situation when a friend got married at age 19. Her husband had no job and few prospects. Their personalities were at opposite ends of the spectrum. It seemed like a huge mistake. But…21 years later, they are still happy together and have raised two great kids. Point being I’m glad I didn’t voice my objections — you never know how things will work out. 🙂

  4. Caryn says:

    I completely agree with your advice, Nina! It is so hard to stay mum in situations like this, but I agree that really no good will come of it. And I think your mom is exactly right that if the friend does express doubts or opens that door a little, the letter writer can certainly use that as an opportunity to gently express concern and/or ask questions. My only caveat to this, of course, would be if the fiance is abusive or otherwise harmful.

    I think this line from the letter writer is telling: “… but I know my friend trusts me and that she values my opinion.” I have no doubt that is the case so the fact that the friend hasn’t asked for her opinion tells me she either already knows (as you mention in your letter) or she is truly confident and doubtless in this situation which is even more reason to just support her as best as she can!

    And it sounds like the letter writer and their mutual friends haven’t spent too much time with the long-distance fiance, so maybe they just need to get to know him better. Of course I don’t know what it is they don’t like about him, but sometimes people just need a little time to warm up!
    Caryn recently posted…When Writing Gets PersonalMy Profile

  5. A member of my family faced this with their best friend. The concern was that the fiancee was actively trying to turn the friend away from everyone in his life. Silence was the course of action taken and the fears came true. It’s a sad situation but I agree that, unless it is a dangerous mistake, we must stay silent. This issue highlights why I feel blessed beyond measure that my children married wonderful partners whom I love dearly.
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  6. Dana says:

    What a tough situation, but I agree with your advice, Nina. I suspect the friend knows how she feels, and is choosing not to ask for an opinion. By staying out of it, Stay Quiet keeps the friendship intact, regardless of whether the marriage survives.
    Dana recently posted…Great reads to beat the winter blahsMy Profile

  7. Tamara says:

    I love your mom’s advice about matters of the heart.
    I had this same situation once. I had a friend who did not get along with her fiancé at all and would almost bait me to tell her he was wrong for her. Of course I was young and foolish and told her not to get married, but she did. They’re still married and we’re still friends, but whew. I thought I ruined everything.
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  8. denise says:

    I love your thoughtful, thorough response here, Nina. I also love how you suggest ways for her to continue her friendship outside of the ‘couple’ realm. Next time I’m in a pickle, I’m totally asking YOU.

  9. Kristen says:

    Great advice, Nina (and your mom!). I went through something similar many, many years ago. I think there is a difference between something really important to disclose (like if she saw him drowning cats every night and embezzling money) and just not liking the fiance. I was in the latter camp (thankfully) with a friend and inasmuch as I wanted to scream, “DON’T DO IT!”, I bit my tongue and just knew we’d either drift apart or spend time together just the two of us. Over time, it’s ended up being that we really aren’t even friends anymore because I really do not like that man and can’t stomach his presence or when she talks about him, but at the end of the day she is happy and isn’t being hurt, so I’m ultimately happy for her. And I think you’re right: a good friend will get a read on everyone else’s take, and though it might not stop her, at least she will sense why get togethers decline. There might be much more going on that is driving her friend’s need to be with this man, and that’s just an uphill battle to talk her out of it.

  10. I’ve been thinking about this so much the past few days Nina. A VERY close relative of mine is about to tie the knot with someone in a few months, and we’re all saying to ourselves Oy! It’s a very fragile, risky situation. I really don’t think there is anything we could say to stop this. But part of me wonders, does he want somebody to step in and stop this? If it were my child who was about to marry somebody I didn’t think was right for them, I would not stand back and watch quietly, that’s for darn sure. But relationships beyond that, I just don’t know where the line is. But I just really, really encourage the friends to stay in touch and support their friend during this engagement, maybe quietly looking for signals. If she seems completely confident about who she is marrying, well, then, there’s nothing they’re going to say that’s going to stop her. But if there are some underlying doubts in the bride to be, she may be hoping somebody notices and cares enough to ask.
    Julie Jo Severson recently posted…The Magical MirrorMy Profile

  11. Fabulous reply, Nina, and I love how you included your mom’s two cents as well! I’ve had a lot of problems in my life, but never this one, and for that I am truly, truly grateful. It’s a huge shame, but there are times where we have to let go or hold back when it comes to people we care about even when we’re “right”. I’m learning that now…

  12. Sarah says:

    This is a tough situation. I mostly agree with you (and your mom) but have to agree with Caryn that, if he’s abusive in any way, I would interfere. Also, if I knew for a fact he was being unfaithful, I would tell her. As I would expect the same from any friend of mine. But, if I simply didn’t care for him as a person or thought she was getting involved too quickly… I think I’d let her make that decision and stay out of it.

  13. Can you send me your mom’s e-mail address? (just kidding) 🙂

    This is good advice. I probably would have meddled and made a muck of it. Thank goodness for wiser minds whom we can turn to for counsel.

  14. Great advice!

    I have a friend who phoned me to tell me she was getting married to a loser-type (no job, expected her to work, cook and clean). Well, in those days, mid 20’s I had no filters so I told her she was crazy and deserved better. She said her biological clock was ticking and she wanted a baby.

    They married, had the baby and were divorced within two years.

    Years later when she met her now-husband, I reminded her of that conversation and she didn’t remember. She said she was so hell-bent on marrying that nothing would have stopped her. Ha!

    Fortunately I really like this current husband and they have an additional two kids together… and we are still friends!

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