Yes, I think too much

When “the truth” doesn’t serve

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Recently, my husband and I were having a discussion about a situation he had with an acquaintance who he thought he had been building a friendship with, but the relationship took an unexpected turn. He was speculating on hypothetical responses in the unlikely event of her ever asking him if everything was “okay” between them. The situation is rather complicated, and actually beside the main point of this post, but I will try to outline it in a meaningful manner since I think it can be frustrating for readers to just be told vaguely rather than to share in pertinent details.

The exchange they had was one in which he was direct and somewhat effusively positive about her character and she was cold in response. Essentially, she seemed to be inclined toward growing a more than superficial friendship with him for quite a long time, then suddenly backed off. The withdrawal came on the heels of his sending a message saying essentially that she was a “good person” and he later apologized because he felt that she pulled back because he had stepped over some previously unrecognized boundary. Though her behavior up to that point would have lead anyone to believe that she would be comfortable with what he said, the timing made it appear that he had gone too far in being straightforward with her. He apologized for treading over a social boundary he hadn’t been aware of, and she brushed it off and said that he hadn’t done so, but all of her communication with him after that point has consisted of shallow chit-chat.

Both my husband and I have speculated about the nature of what brought on her change of heart. It is impossible for anyone to know for sure except her, but it is interesting that one can put off another person so quickly by saying nice things about him or her. My guess at the time was that she was unable to separate platonic affection from sexual interest and misinterpreted his behavior as showing inappropriate interest in her. He felt the fact that he has always and often expressed his delight in his relationship with me and freely expressed his total adoration for his wife as evidence that he could not have romantic designs on anyone else, but I feel that this wasn’t about him or his intentions, but about her issues of security (or insecurity).

The main point isn’t this breakdown or even the reasons for it, but the path that their relationship (such as it is) may take from this point onward. Beyond trivial e-mail messages once every blue moon, the only possible communication he may have with her will be passing greetings if they stumble across each other in a professional situation. It was this eventuality which we were discussing hypothetically. Since she was the initiator of the wall that went up between them, it would not be out of the question (though rather unlikely), that she may encounter him and ask if everything is good after their tense exchange. We were discussing how he might respond if that were to happen. Our discussion wasn’t about her as much as about such situations in life in general, and how to deal with them best. This provided a certain opportunity to learn something and to grow personally from an unpleasant experience.

My husband said that he really is indifferent to this woman after what had occurred as he has no interest in developing a friendship with someone whose insecurities or issues interfere with mature discourse between two married adults (she is married as well). He doesn’t care how she regards him and will make no special efforts to talk with her nor attempt to avoid her. He would like for a socially appropriate veneer to remain, but he also does not want to be dishonest should she broach the topic of their uncomfortable exchange which ended any possibility of a more meaningful friendship. He speculated about whether or not he would give her the relief she may seek should she ask if all was “okay” or if he would be honest and indicate to her that he has lingering negative feelings toward her as a result of her behavior.

By nature, both my husband and I are very honest people. Sometimes, we are painfully honest, but one of the things we’ve learned as we’ve gotten older is that blunt or blatant honesty itself really isn’t the best policy in some cases. The best policy is to do what serves the situation best and maintains essential honesty. That doesn’t mean that one present a muddled truth, but rather that one decides upon the outcome one desires and acts in a manner which serves to direct the other party toward that outcome and does not present a lie.

In this case, the desired outcome is that this woman learn from her actions and understand that she lost something as a result of her behavior. Most people believe that blunt accusation or honesty will serve this purpose. If he were to straightforwardly tell her, in essence, that he would have been a good friend to her, but her cold and callous treatment in response to his kind words and delayed and cavalier dismissal of his apology when he attempted to address the situation killed the potential for such a friendship, the outcome would be unlikely to be her feeling enlightened and deciding to act differently in the future. In fact, the most likely outcome is that she would feel that my husband was a jerk and that it was his problem, not hers, and she would decide to be more cautious around new potential friends in the future.

Being too bluntly honest would make her less likely to change in the future, not more likely. If he were too bold, she would likely decide that a friendship with him wouldn’t have been worthwhile, she was “right” in putting up a wall, and that she was better off without someone like that in her life. “Showing her” how he felt would be cathartic, but it wouldn’t be productive.

In order to achieve the most desired outcome in which she would address future potential friendships differently yet remain honest about their relationship, I advised him to seek a more ambiguous response in such a hypothetical situation. I advised him to say that, “there was nothing worth worrying about.” Such a response makes it clear that “something” was wrong, but he did not wish her to be overly preoccupied with it. The value of this response is that it leaves the door open for her to deal with the issues that have fallen by the wayside should she choose, or to allow it to drop should she choose not to. If she pressed him further, he could say that it wasn’t a good time or place to discuss it but he’d be happy to get together for coffee or something and talk about it. If she wanted to let it go, she also had that option. He would be placing the power in her hands to deal with it honestly, or to forget about it. Being blunt with her would strip her of power, and make her want to take it back by viewing him negatively and rejecting him roundly in her internal dialog about him.

In “my” (actually “our”)  ideal world, this woman would be mature enough to deal with the issue honestly and straightforwardly. However, she has already shown that she can’t handle direct communication even when it is positive. There is a very high probability that she couldn’t tolerate it when it is negative, and many people are like her. They don’t have the capacity to deal with deep honesty between themselves and other people and shut down when it is in play. When dealing with such people, you serve nothing other than your own ego by foisting bluntness upon them. They won’t grow or change if you push them too far because your opinion and value recede once you push them too far. If your goal is educating and guiding people toward change, sometimes brutal and blunt honesty really isn’t the best policy.

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Written by yesithinktoomuch

September 21, 2010 at 10:22 pm

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