It's Complicated Advice Q&A: Can This Friendship Be Saved?


I have a girlfriend who has been my best friend for many years. While she was married, she had an affair, and since her divorce she has continued an on-again/off-again relationship with this man. He's cheated on her and has been unable to commit. Each time they go into crisis, I've been there for her, even answering 2 a.m. phone calls! The last time they got back together, she hid it from me because she knew I wouldn't be happy with her decision. Our friendship was also strained for several months after she said something hurtful to me regarding my failed attempts to conceive. I eventually wrote her a letter, saying I wanted to try to mend the friendship. Now, we're in touch, but we see each other much less often than we used to, and it's awkward. I feel hurt that she so easily walked away from me, yet she'll go running back to this man who treats her like crap. Can you help me figure out if this friendship can or should be saved? -L.W., 40, West Deerfield, MA

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In murky situations like these, it helps to think like someone in law enforcement: Before you decide what to do, make sure you understand the facts. You don't know for sure that she walked away from you easily (she may very well have been as upset as you were), and comparing her friendship with you to her romance with him is mixing not only apples and oranges but apples and elephants. Romantic love makes us do irrational things; people are driven mad by it, which is not usually the case with friendship.

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It sounds as if there's still a lot of fond feeling between you and also an accumulation of misunderstanding and hurt. If it were me, I would invite her to lunch and clear the air.

Before you do this, however, be clear with yourself about how you feel, both about her past behavior and about how much you're willing to be there for her. It does no good to get together for a good, honest talk if you can't be honest. What's really bugging you here? That she had an affair? That she keeps on with this ridiculous relationship? That she expects you to be there no matter what and no matter when?

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We women tend to feel that when we're friends with someone, it means we're duty-bound to approve of everything she does. But you can be supportive without being in full agreement. A strange thing happens when we're straightforward about conflicted feelings: Because we're no longer consumed with trying to make our emotions agree with our intellect, our natural feelings of affection for the person causing the upset are allowed to surface. It becomes much easier to say, "Jenn, I love you, but I don't know what you see in that guy, and if you do go through another drama-thon with him, don't call me after midnight. I'm there for you, but I need my beauty sleep!"

Call her. Good friendships are few and far between, and it sounds like this one deserves another shot.

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Karen Karbo is an award-winning writer and author of The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman. She's also a mom, a writing teacher, and a horse owner. Check out more advice from Karen.

Need smart advice?
Whatever's bugging or perplexing you - about your friends, brother, sister, parents, in-laws, husband, you name it - REDBOOK's Karen Karbo has the smart advice you need. Email your questions, rants, and worries to her at karenkarbo@redbookmag.com and please include your initials, age, city and state. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.

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