I don’t know how to give love advice. Between the need of being true to yourself, the feeling that you don’t want to hurt your friend and your empathy as you know how it is to be in their shoes there’s only a big question mark left after the question whether it’s possible to advise someone on matters of the heart and actually help them.
Similarly as parents are overprotective we’re sometimes overprotective when dealing with our friends. We’ve made our own bad choices and subsequently suffered quite a bit, therefore one of the worst things we can see is to look at someone who we care about making the same decisions. The problem is that no one learns from the mistakes of others. We can tell someone a story mirroring the one they’re dealing with in their lives and they will nod and then do what they need to do anyway. What’s more a friend can read our intentions wrong and instead of seeing our attempt to help, they may read the love advice as us taking a superior position of someone who knows better. Needless to say that the latter is the last thing we should want our friend to think. Besides, as we learn in life in all bad experiences there’s something good that comes out of it. Who knows whether by trying to protect someone from the pain, we’re not also sheltering them from the beautiful things that can come up thanks to this learning experience? My first partner broke my heart but today I know French because of the effort I put into learning the language so that we could communicate properly. Each of us has a whole list of similar actually-not-so-bad bad experiences.
Protecting a friend from a having a heart broken is one thing – you may manage to force yourself to take a step back or your friend will withdraw and you’ll be forced to do so externally. Whichever is the case trying to keep a non-judgmental attitude is probably the hardly achievable ideal. It doesn’t mean that you have to lie about what you think but it means that you have to do all to make sure that your friend feels comfortable enough with you to talk to you if things actually take the wrong turn and not be scared to approach because you were being judgy and they scared that they’ll hear “I told you so” from you. Not that it’s easy and not that I don’t make this mistake myself but one thing I’m slowly learning is that you need to let people do what they want to do. It gets easier if we remember that advice seeking is often an attempt to find someone to just listen or even to validate the fears one has and then rebel against what he or she knows is true.
The real problem appears, however, if your friend is doing something really harmful. Let’s assume that his problem is losing himself in a relationship to the extent that he spends no time whatsoever away from his partner. Maybe your friend likes guys that have addictive personalities and is being co-dependent? Or the worst of all she has an abusive partner? If you’re dealing with someone who has very serious issues just let go. Be there to listen but suggest professional advice rather than offer your own. These people are often psychologically rather unwell because of reasons you know nothing about and you’re not equipped to help. If you try, the love and drama addict that the person in a toxic relationship is, will try to drag you into their swamp and you may end up feeling hurt. They’ll turn everything you say against you and twist it around till they will make you feel like you’re the one with the problem. A person inseparable from their partner told me that if my partner was my priority I would be spending ALL my time with him. A wife of an alcoholic accused me of being a drama queen and exaggerating as apparently there’s nothing wrong with someone who gets drunk every single night as long as they go to work in the morning. The list could go on and on because I used to have a tendency to both attract broken people and try to fix them. At some point you learn to let go, though. You cannot fix a broken person, not as a friend and not as a partner but a broken person can try to break you. In other words, “and if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”.
So Dear Rinser, what do you think? Can we give people love advice or is it always pointless? Should we let people make their own decision or try to influence them when we don’t see them doing what we think they should? Is giving relationship advice not always judgmental?