Dear Harry and Louise:
My best friend Michael is someone I can usually trust and count on. When I was recently hurt by a girlfriend (she dumped me after we were together for two years and, I thought, headed toward marriage), the only person I confided in was Michael. He let me vent, his house was always open to me, and he even called a couple of times to make sure I was keeping my head up. Whenever he was having the guys over to watch football, he made sure I was included. Sounds great right? Here’s the problem: At one of these gatherings of guys (and some girlfriends), Michael was a little tipsy and a bit stoned, and he blurted out one of the embarrassing stories I had told him. Everyone got a good laugh out of it, but I was pissed. I wanted to punch him out right there, but instead I sat there getting even angrier. I left before everyone else, but not in a huff. I didn’t want to bring even more attention to the story he told.
So what’s my next move? Should I end the friendship? Can I trust this asshole ever again?
• • •
This makes my heart ache, because the one given between friends is trust. It is our closest friends who are there to see us when we are feeling like less-than-stellar excuses for human beings. The best buddy is the one who realizes you will be some version of your half-self while wallowing in the wounds inflicted by your girlfriend. To take any intimate information and then share it is egregiously bad form.
There is still one piece of information that will change my response from, “Never confide in him again!” Has this sharing of information ever happened before? If not, then you still have enough of a bridge between you to walk across as you begin your conversation with him. Simply saying, “When I tell you about the lousy moments of my life, I expect that to be between the two of us,” may be all you need. Your buddy may immediately feel remorse and embarrassment that he crossed a line and hurt you. If he tells you to lighten up or, worse, to relax (I detest that phrase!), then file that away in your mind as a good reason never to divulge too much to this friend ever again. If he tries to use drinking and smoking as an excuse for his poor judgment, then you continue to stuff the same file. What does it matter if he had too much to drink? You now know that he will share your personal stories whenever a six-pack is in the vicinity. He will get no more ammunition from you. He will become your soft friend, that sad location between acquaintance and true ally. You will be gregarious when you are together, but you will gradually stop reaching out to one another. It is a transition many have taken, but it is still one that requires some mourning and acclimation of your headspace.
• • •
Good thing you didn’t follow your first instinct and punch Michael out. That would have served only to draw attention to your breakup, your pain, his lack of discretion. Having said that, I think you need to grow a pair, dude. Have a beer with Michael, and tell him he crossed you. Let him know men don’t rat out men they trust. It is manly to keep a confidence. It is girly to flap your tongue about a friend’s misfortune, especially in public.
If Michael calls you a whiner, finish the beer, smile, shake his hand, and never trust him again. Knowing whom to trust—or not—will give you strength.
• • •
It is girly to flap your tongue, perhaps, but never womanly or manly. I agree that knowing whom to trust will give you strength, but the initial loss of a friend’s confidence can knock you off center. Be gentle with yourself while you clear your mind.
• • •
Be gentle with your next woman, whom I hope you meet as soon as possible.