By Isabelle Laureta
I have a friend who keeps coming back to her ex. They had a bad history, as the ex cheated on my friend several times. I’ve been telling her the cliché “We accept the love we think we deserve,” but she can’t seem to take a hint. How do I tell her that coming back to the person who tore her apart will eventually consume her? What do I do to save my friend from her ex? Please help me. She’s my closest friend and I turn to her for help, but this time, she’s the one who needs saving.
Hi, Consuela B!
Since you’re clearly a Friends fan, let me speak in your language. Remember that Thanksgiving episode when Monica invited her ex’s son to dinner and everybody judged her and gave her crap about it so finally she’s had enough and called everyone out on all the stupid things they ever did and they all went quiet and defeated? I’ll admit, Monica is my least favorite of the six of them, but when she did that, I was like, “Daangg Girl! Go get ‘em!” I loved that scene because it shows how ignorant we can be of (or choose to ignore) our own stupid decisions in life, yet we’re so aware of other people’s.
But having said that, I also think it’s unfair to call someone a hypocrite for merely looking out for a friend, especially when we think they’re bound for trouble. Look, what I’m saying is: Every last one of us has, at some point in our lives, done something really, really stupid and hoped to heaven that people, especially the ones whose opinions matter a great deal to us, don’t judge us for it. So the first (and kindest) thing you can do for your friend is to forgive her. Forgive her for being foolish. Forgive her for keeping on coming back to her ex even after your whole Perks of Being a Wallflower litany. Forgive her for knowing better but choosing to go completely the opposite track anyway. Because I bet even she knows how reckless she’s being, but human beings and emotions are flawed and complex and ridiculous and irrational that way and if you’ve ever felt so strongly for someone, even though they’ve done elaborate things to hurt you, you’d understand.
I know how it feels to have the strong urge to step up and call out your friend on her self-destructive ways. I, too, love calling out people on their bullsh*t. But I also know how it feels to have someone call the shots for me when I didn’t ask them to, no matter how aware I am of the potential darkness I’m about to put myself into. It’s extremely annoying and paralyzing because on one hand, I value my friends’ opinion and I don’t want to disappoint them, but on the other hand, I want to live my own life and make my own terrible mistakes and learn from them because I have this crazy impulse saying, “You have to know to know. You have to do it. I know it may sound crazy, but you have to.” And if your friend is just like me, there’s a 99 percent chance I’ll follow that impulse because that’s what being human is—crazy and stupid.
This isn’t to say you’re being a bad friend. You’re a good person and I’m sure your intentions are coming from a place of love. You’re a good friend for looking out for her and wanting to save her from the hurt. But sometimes, no matter how good our intentions are, the execution completely negates the thought. That’s why you have to be careful, Ms. Bananahammock. Understand that your friend is dealing with very delicate feelings right now and the last thing she probably needs is a close friend who would nag her out of her wits. Issues that have things to do with love and exes and feelings that are resurfacing when they shouldn’t don’t necessarily go away just because you told them to. Most of the time, it takes a lot of experiential beating (figuratively, of course) over and over for someone to learn their lesson on their own.
You’re right—your friend needs saving, probably now more than ever. But that doesn’t need to come from you, because sometimes, the saving needs to come from oneself. And that, for me, is the best kind of salvation—one that comes from within. Because no matter how badly we want to save the people we love from impending doom, I think it’s also important to realize that no matter what we say or do, it’s always, always their decision at the end of the day.
Now you’re probably going ask me if there’s anything you can do at all apart from watching your friend burn herself to the ground. Why, yes, of course there is. You can keep telling her how you feel about this whole situation. But as I said, let her play the field and get injured, because sometimes, letting people make mistakes can be an act of love. And I know it’s tempting, but don’t stand in the sidelines and say, “Well that’s what you get for being a nutcase and not listening to me.” Instead, stand in the sidelines ready with bottled water and a towel in case she needs it. Laugh with her about it later on. And no matter how stupid she gets from here on out, never ever leave her side. Because sometimes, a friend doesn’t necessarily mean a source of advice, but a fountain of presence and acceptance—nothing more, nothing less.
Ask me your deepest, weirdest, darkest questions! I’m no expert at anything and I don’t have it all figured out either (because, honestly, who does?), but let me at least try. Send them over to firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s make sense of this crazy millennial life together! <3