Should You Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace?
PJ Advice columnist Belladonna Rogers on the age-old quandary for friends and family of whether to intervene when Ms. Right wants to marry Mr. Wrong — or vice versa
December 12, 2011 - 12:02 am
Dear Belladonna Rogers,
A close friend, Tina, who’s 25, plans to marry Geoff, 37. He’s Mr. Wrong. I care for Tina very much (she’s the great-niece of my closest friend and sorority sister, who died last year.) I don’t want to damage our friendship.
My batting average in predicting divorce before couples marry is 1.000. I’m also three times Tina’s age, and have seen a great deal of life. Do I have a duty to warn her? If so, how?
Worried in Waukegan
For today’s column, I polled a wide variety of friends and acquaintances, as well as some total strangers in line at Home Depot, where I’ve been stocking up on 100-watt incandescent light bulbs. One friend replied that there are two questions you should never ask. The first is, “What does he see in her?” and the second is, “What does she see in him?”
The consensus was to say nothing, unless dealing with your own child. Here’s why:
No one likes unsolicited advice. Love is not only blind, it’s also deaf. People believe they know themselves and their intended spouses better than anyone else. They don’t like meddlers. They bridle at being told what to do. They often reject the adviser along with the advice — permanently. People don’t think it’s anyone else’s business whom they choose to marry.
I think these dilemmas come in two types. The first is when you do have a duty to warn a friend or anyone else in your life. All the rest — the vast majority — are of the second type, where you have no such obligation. These are optional. Whether you intervene depends on how strongly you feel and how outspoken you are. Be prepared to be rebuffed in any event.
WHEN YOU HAVE AN AFFIRMATIVE DUTY TO WARN
You have a duty to warn Tina if you’re certain Geoff will cause her permanent physical harm or such severe emotional injury that it’s the psychological equivalent of grave physical damage.
Even at the risk of angering Tina, or causing her to break off relations with you entirely, you must warn her if you’re sure, based on conclusive evidence, that she will inevitably be the victim of grave physical or psychological abuse.
If it turns out that Tina was already aware of this, your task could well be impossible if Geoff is a skilled manipulator who has succeeded in making her believe that her only chance for happiness lies with him. Once forged, such unions are difficult for others to sever. Years, often decades, pass before the victim is able to break free. As often as not, they never do.
If your concerns are grave enough, you may forever regret not warning a friend, and may blame yourself later if terrible harm comes to her and you held your tongue when it might have helped to speak your mind.
SITUATIONS THAT WILL TEMPT YOU TO INTERVENE BUT ARE OPTIONAL
If your qualms are based on your belief that Tina’s marriage will lead to what Sigmund Freud called “ordinary unhappiness,” which he distinguished from “hysterical misery,” I don’t recommend intervening. If you find Geoff boring and fear that she will, too, say nothing.
If you know that Tina’s attraction is based on Geoff’s sexual appeal and you think he’s a cad lacking the requisite integrity to sustain a long-term marriage in a monogamous relationship, it’s unlikely she’ll pay any attention. She’ll claim that “no one knows him as well as I do.” The best way for her to come to her senses is if she sees Geoff with another woman. Hearing that others have seen him two-timing her will have little to no effect, alas.