I was not much of a watcher of US sitcom ‘Friends’. I vaguely recall non-stop ‘hilarity’ announced by either an over-enthusiastic studio audience or a much-valued laughter track.
Back in the day, late-night radio presenters survived on provoking callers into killing dead-air by encouraging tin-foil hatters to express their obsessions and delusions and whilst Trevor of Dulwich or Edna of Ealing may have been happy to consider themselves ‘a friend of the show’, the laughter was ‘at’, rather than ‘with’ them. The radio presenters may have sounded ‘friendly’ but they were not ‘friends’ any more than the cast of the sitcom had to be anything more than work-colleagues. Business is business and laughter is often at somebody else’s expense.
Real ‘friends’ are the people who have earned the right to be honest through being supportive, but when a relationship has broken down, even good friends can call it wrong. People outside of the relationship do not always recognise the dynamic and often do not understand what their friend ever saw in Miss X or Mr Y. It is not just a case of not knowing the secrets of the bedroom (which sometimes explains a lot!), but even old friends may not understand the dynamics of their friends’ relationships and even less be able to take into account feelings which may not be clear even to the person undergoing them.
In all that uncertainty and confusion, what helps?
‘I told you so!’ ‘She was never good enough for you’ and ‘I didn’t like to say, but he…’ are probably some of the least helpful things. Saying what we think the person wants to hear – to validate their ‘rightness’ and their partner’s ‘wrongness’ at the end of the relationship is rarely the action of a good friend. As a family lawyer, I give people the opportunity to express their ambivalence and uncertainty and I strive to never put people ‘on a conveyor belt’ where they start by asking about their situation and end up with a Decree Absolute in their hand in a lonely room. Clients need to be making their own decisions and if they attempt reconciliation, they do not want the shame of doing so after all their friends have bad-mouthed their once-again partner.
Listen and remember that whatever you think, they might want to get back together.
A friend has two good ears and one cautious mouth.