“So what should I do now?” She asks me, talking about a guy she fancies and sipping on her second G&T. I’m already three drinks in but I’ve never been more sober, as my thoughts are trying to get ahead of one another in the race called “So what should she do now?" The leading participant, as most of the time, is “how honest should I be?”, followed by “I can’t hurt her” and “I don't want any trouble”. This race is very common. As a friend, you are bound to find yourself in it at least once, and as a good friend, you have to be willing to participate. Who wouldn’t want to help their friend out, especially in the times when that help is really needed?
Friendships, like any relationship, are generally very complicated. You probably only truly realise it as you grow up and start getting into fights over things that are not just toys or boys. Moreover, all friendships are different, and it doesn’t mean that one is better than another. It’s not that the difference lies in whether one friend is fun to go out with and another one is who you stay at home watching Netflix with. Although sometimes it can seem like that, it’s more substantial than that. In the grand scheme of things, none of us are the same and the way we interact, consequently, cannot be the same either. Personally, I often am surprised by how dissimilar my online conversations, for example, with friends can be – and it’s not because I change my personality each time or love one more than another. It really is down to different chemistries.
One thing all friendships have in common (well, one thing they should ideally have in common), is honesty. Honesty, as I understand it, is more than just not lying – it is telling the truth, whatever it may be. Sometimes, however, the truth is so brutal and harsh that we can’t even admit it to ourselves, and learning to see things clearly is a daily, if not hourly practice. Delusional thinking is so damn addictive, especially when something is not going too well, which happens to everyone. So how on earth are we supposed to say the truth out loud to others? What if it causes a fight? Or worse, what if it ends the friendship?
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like your friend has majorly ripped you to shreds? It hurts. How can it not? There is a limit to how much judgement we can take at once before we lose our temper, and also a limit to how critical we can be before we start hurting someone big-time. It is a sign of caring for someone when you are being honest and telling it how it is – so it does have to be done in a caring, loving way. Healthy criticism, then, means having boundaries yet still being straight and that, I believe, can only strengthen the friendship and deepen a bond.
If, like me, you’re never really keen on hurting anyone, realising that is a demanding learning curve. It takes time. And it’s not even about telling your friends that the show they’re watching is shit or that they have spinach stuck in their teeth (which is either a joke or a non-destructive kind of honesty). When it comes to relationship advice, job difficulties, or any other problems, it is easier to say whatever the person wants to hear than to be absolutely blunt and put things into perspective, yet it is the only way to go.
What I’ve learnt is that, first of all, it is essential to think about your motives: are they of your own self-interest or do you have genuine intentions to help? Secondly, what are the consequences of telling the truth: how will it affect the person, will they be hurt, and if they will, is it better for them long-term? Finally, it is always, always about boundaries. People appreciate you being honest if you say it at the right time and don’t simply force your own opinions and ram your own views down their throats. There is only so much a man can swallow.
So next time your mind is occupied by that gruelling race, let the most generous, tactful, and compassionate participant win – and you’ll be fine. That is the best policy.