In seventh grade, a good friend of mine rolled into our first hour science class with her hair in butterfly clips (you remember those multi-colored hair clips that came in different colors and were overused by moms as well as teenage girls?). Now, this was not the “normal” way to wear butterfly clips (read: hair parted down the middle, one clip on each side). No, she’d taken it to a whole new level, with her hair in a ponytail, separated into eight pieces, all held to her scalp by a rainbow of butterfly clips. This resulted in her looking like she had spikes coming from eight angles of her head. It was not a pretty picture, for anyone, let alone an awkward seventh-grade girl. So, when she asked me what I thought of her “cool new hair-do,” what exactly was I supposed to say? “Well, I probably wouldn’t wear my hair like that,” I told her as I desperately looked for something about the ‘do that I could compliment. “But I like that you used four different colors of clips.” That comment started a minor seventh-grade feud between my friend and I. She didn’t take my comment as well as I’d hoped, and I couldn’t justify lying to her, even to make her feel better. I was supposed to be her friend – I was the one who should be most able and willing to tell her the truth. But that’s not always the case with our best friends. Often we count on those closest to us to back us up, to take our sides, to blindly support us, no matter what conclusion we come to. We inadvertently ask the people we consider our “besties” to lie to us. An acquaintance of mine got married this summer, despite the fact that a few of her closest friends questioned her relationship. She even outright told one friend that she didn’t want any more questions about why she was getting married, what she loved about her fiancé or what steps they were taking to ensure their commitment would indeed last; she preferred only what she deemed “supportive, encouraging words” instead. Though the “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all” adage seems like good advice, blatantly asking friends to keep their concerns to themselves is romantic relationship suicide. Our friends know us best – they’ve likely seen us at our worst, our most selfish, our most arrogant, our greediest, our most unkind. And they’re still our friends. Once we get to a place where we don’t actually want their honest opinions, maybe it’s because we know we’re doing something wrong. It doesn’t have to be that blatant either. The same principle applies when we get defensive at friends who are kind enough to tell us the truth. Our reaction (ranging from quiet, passive frustration to blinding anger, both of which can result in broken friendships) can inadvertently tell our friends to stop being truthful with us. Though we want unquestioned support from our besties when we complain that our significant others don’t show us enough affection, maybe what we need is for a true friend to ask us hard questions about why we think we’re not getting enough cuddle time. In most situations, we can assume some responsibility for relationship troubles and our friends should be able to tell us when we’re the ones with the issue. When we ask others to conceal the truth, we’re stripping them of friend duties. It’s their place to call us on our stuff – it’s their place to tell us when we’re full of it. And if we don’t, it’s detrimental to ourselves. If we encourage them to lie to us, we encourage ourselves to not see what’s really going on in a situation. If we get defensive when our friends gently tell us that maybe we were too controlling, maybe we shouldn’t have cheated or maybe we should assume some responsibility for that break-up, we’re telling them that what matters most to us is how things appear, not how things really are. And as ugly as things really are, the truth is what we need.
Because, unlike multi-colored butterfly clips, a reality-check will never go out of style.