May 19, 2024
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May 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

If You See Something, Should You Say Something?

My close friend Sheila has cried to me for many years about her daughter Miriam, who is single and has a history of not being the most popular girl on the block. Miriam is not a great beauty, not particularly charming or brilliant and, honestly, kind of boring and dull. Obviously, I would never say any of these things to Sheila. I am always encouraging about her daughter and try to always find something good to say about Miriam. But Miriam is nothing like her mother and it’s been a problem in many areas for all of her life.

Miriam is now 37 years old and recently met a man who is much older than her, and divorced, and they are dating pretty seriously right now. Sheila is already talking “wedding.” The dating and the divorce I don’t see as a problem. However, I don’t like this man. I’ve met him a number of times and there is just something about him that really gives me the creeps. I also don’t like the way he talks to Miriam. I don’t think he treats her respectfully. Sheila and I have two friends in common, and they both feel the same way about him. I actually did a little digging about his previous marriage and couldn’t get too much information, because they lived out of town, but I heard enough to concern me.

Sheila is so thrilled that Miriam has a “boyfriend,” that I think she is blinded to anything I might say about the guy. She just wants to see her daughter married and finally, hopefully, a mother. I see a disaster about to happen and so do my friends. We are all very concerned and not sure what our role should be at this point. Do we speak our truth to Sheila and tell her how worried we are about this guy? Or do we just join in the fantasy that all will be good and Miriam will finally be married and have the potential to have a family?

I do remember once, years ago, that Sheila said to me that women who marry and divorce are still better off and seen more favorably than women who never marry in the first place. I was kind of shocked by this comment, but didn’t respond. Now I wonder whether maybe Sheila does see what we’re seeing, but still wants her daughter to be actually married.

I don’t think Sheila understands how catastrophic a divorce can be. My niece is in the middle of a horrible divorce and still hasn’t gotten her “get.” It’s a disaster. I fear this will be Miriam’s future. What should we do to protect our friend and her daughter, particularly since they don’t seem to want protection?

The Navidaters respond:

You’re in a tough spot that so many people have been in before. You either fear or have substantiated evidence about a friend’s significant other. To tell or not to tell? That is the question. If you tell, you risk losing the friendship. If you don’t tell, your friend may be deeply impacted by the information you know. Should she find out later on that you knew, you risk losing her in that case as well. You knew and didn’t tell me? Let’s acknowledge the one and only substantiated reality here: You are in a no-win situation. So, whatever you decide to do, you will not feel perfect or complete. You will have a gnawing sensation that you “could have” handled the situation differently, no matter what you do. The feeling is normal and is due to an impossible situation, not your actions. Practice self-compassion and be kind to yourself. You’re a good, caring, loyal friend who wants to see those in your life in happy, healthy relationships.

I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you that if someone doesn’t want “protection,” there is nothing you can do to protect that person. Furthermore, it’s not your job. Certainly, Sheila and Miriam are adults who are walking into this situation in one of two ways: With eyes wide open—they are aware of the way Miriam’s boyfriend treats her and are making a conscious decision because one or both feels that the rewards outweigh the risk. With eyes shut tight—they know the situation but refuse to see it (aka, denial).

I can’t tell you what is going on here, but I will say that in many or most situations, people usually know. They know and they don’t want to acknowledge the problem. Sometimes, when we approach them, trying to protect or save them, we lose the relationship because we are holding up a mirror to something they don’t want to see. They’ll toss us before they toss the problem.

What further complicates the situation is that the bride-to-be is not your friend. The bride is a 37-year-old woman who may not listen to a word her mother tells her. We don’t know how much influence Sheila has in Miriam’s life. You asked if you and your friends should speak the truth or go along with the fantasy. You certainly don’t have to go along with any fantasy. You can take the route of being a real friend by gently exploring some of Mr. Creepy’s behaviors with Sheila. Next time you are together and Mr. C. says something “off” to Miriam, you can later call Sheila, or gently pull her aside, and tell her what you saw. You know the MTA motto… See something, say something. “I feel uncomfortable saying something, but did you notice when Chaim told Miriam x, y and z? What do you think about it? How did it make you feel?” Sheila’s response will be your guiding light. The odds are you will not affect change, and taking this route poses a risk. Sheila may bite your head off. But, this is really all the wiggle room you have without overstepping your bounds. Should Sheila open up to you, your role then becomes crystal clear. You are Sheila’s support and confidante. Pray that Miriam has a friend as caring as you are. If they need your help, they’ll find you.

Moving away from your situation, and putting the spotlight on this issue in general, in my experience I have found that when well-meaning people get involved in trying to “help” or “fix” a dysfunctional situation, their help more often than not blows up in their face. Time after time after time. And here is my very clinical, very complicated reason why I believe this is so. The person you are trying to help has often played a role in the dysfunction. They are often part of the problem.

If Sheila is on board and seems to be living on Fantasy Island, the only power you have is the decision of whether or not to keep her in your life. I’m sure I’ll get some pushback on this, but should you decide that you love Sheila and Miriam so much that you can’t bare to withhold this, I would totally understand and I would think you are one caring and brave lady (who may soon be short one friend and her daughter). These situations are never easy. Good luck with your decision.

Sincerely,

Jennifer

By Jennifer Mann

Jennifer Mann, LCSW, is a licensed, clinical psychotherapist and dating and relationship coache working with individuals, couples and families in private practice in Hewlett, New York. To set up an appointment, please call 516.224.7779 and press 2 for Jennifer. To learn more about her services, please visit thenavidaters.com. If you would like to submit a dating or relationship question anonymously, please email [email protected]. You can follow The Navidaters on Facebook and Instagram for dating and relationship advice.

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