The notion of being "best friends forever" is a romanticized myth perpetuated by pop culture. Research suggests that we keep only one out of 12 close friends we make over the course of a lifetime. To improve the odds, it's important to learn what to say—-and what NOT to say to a friend. Sounds simple but it really isn't.
Sharing intimacies is integral to bonding and making new friends because friendships deepen when we break down the walls between us, slowly revealing our real selves to our friends—including our hopes, secrets and our concerns. Yet, friends need to be cautious NOT to reveal too much too soon, to make sure that sharing is reciprocal with give and take, and not to say the wrong things.
What lines need to be drawn in terms of being totally forthright and honest with a friend? They're murky at best. But certain topics or types of comments are risky because they are so emotionally loaded that they might compromise even a very close friendship.
While a friend may appreciate your telling her that she has spinach between her teeth or that she better pop a breath mint, there are many things she may prefer NOT to hear. In fact, below are a baker's dozen of things NOT to say to a friend, things better left unsaid because saying them may jeopardize a friendship. Where did I find them? I asked my friends.
- Don't tell your friend when you don't like their significant other simply because he wouldn't be your choice. (Of course, all bets are off on this one if the significant other is abusive).
- Don't tell your friend details about your sex life. Think about whether you would want your partner doing the same.
- Don't tell your friend you don't agree with the way she is raising her children—-for example, that you think she is spoiling them or sending them to a lousy school. Or if the child is older, that he/she is a bad person,
- Don't tell your friend she's noticeably gained weight, she really shouldn't be eating chocolate brownies or ice cream, or that she doesn't look good in the new outfit she's wearing.
- Don't tell your friend she's looking old.
- Don't tell your friend that her husband has hit on you (as long as you're not a guilty party).
- Don't tell your friend that her estranged husband is a jerk and she's better off without him. They may get back together.
- Don't criticize your friend's habits unless it is something that really is endangering her health and safety, especially if it's something that may just be a phase.
- Don't tell your friend that her job seems boring and unfulfilling to you.
- Don't tell your friend how much money you make.
- Don't tell your friend anything about another friend that you wouldn't want the third person to find out.
- Don't tell your friend negative things others are saying about her (unless it's something she can do something about).
- Don't give your friend unsolicited advice you wouldn't want to hear from someone else.
Of course, sometimes we can't predict when a comment or advice will unintentionally set a friend off. One woman told me that a long-standing friendship ended when her friend made a negative comment about her sofa (one which she really liked). It was the final straw in a relationship gone sour that was characterized by critical, undercutting comments.
Some prior articles on Play Goes Strong about making and keeping friends:
- How to Find Friends with a Click of the Mouse
- Five Tips for Making Friends after 50
- Words with Friends: A Serendipitous Way to Make New Friends
- Six Strategies for Handling a Needy Friend
- Five Signs a Friendship is Drifting Apart
Irene S. Levine, PhD (aka The Friendship Doctor) is the author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend and the producer of TheFriendshipBlog.com where she provides advice on the quandaries and dilemmas of contemporary friendships.