My friend recently had a bad breakup and is now going through a “slutty phase.” This has meant a lot of one-night stands with random guys she meets on Tinder, or at the club. I’m worried. Should I say something? – J. B.
You should definitely say something, yeah. So, ha-ha-on-you a little bit, because you thought I’d be like “Mmmm, better stay out of it, girl,” which would smoothly absolve you of all responsibility for your better caring-feelings, but would still leave you this little moment of release for your lesser judging-feelings, right? Sorry.
Do you know “Occam’s razor”? The theory that—very basically—the easiest solution is usually right? As a methodology applied to friend-problems like yours, I think that it’s usually wrong. The easy solution in a thorny situation like this one, where you risk being perceived as rude/disrespectful/overly dramatic/condescending/sanctimonious if you say something, is to say nothing, let her do her thing, and not be the person who creates drama (“DRAMA!” being the ultimate new sin for cool girls to commit, but that’s another whole thing).
Saying nothing is the easiest solution, and is usually considered the best one, because most people “say something” shittily. We don’t talk a lot—at all?—about empathy, curiosity, listening, and what it means to really support each other. Instead, our culture is oriented around the self: we’re allowed and encouraged to protect our personal boundaries and retreat into our own needs, wants and likes at every awkward moment.
I mean, I get it—I’m a WASP, after all. Deciding to involve yourself in a friend’s sex-business can feel like the least appealing and even the most dangerous option. Female friendships are as pretty and complicated as lace. But, ultimately, avoiding the depths of those friendships makes us worse friends (and lonelier people). Here is a semi-related anecdote: I have a friend with a gorgeous heart that pumps only love and sunshine who also cannot listen for more than a minute or offer any other kind of sustained interest in others. My choice was to ignore it/her, or get into it, and talk to her about it and also accept it, all at once. Sometimes the people who love us are going to love us differently, incompletely and in the wrong way— or at least it’s going to feel that way. Nothing is more alienating—what could be? Real friendship means being uncomfortable sometimes with how even our bests deal with us. It’s OK to be made uncomfortable, or to make uncomfortable, sometimes. Can we agree/shake/pinkie-swear on that?
Saying something isn’t the same as calling her out, or telling her she’s wrong, or that she’s doing something bad (unless her recent liaisons have been sans condoms, in which case, say plenty). Tell her that you’ve noticed—With love! With good intention! With so much respect!—that she seems to be making different kinds of choices lately, and that while you are Salt-n-Peppa-level aware that the specifics of her sexual behaviour are None Of Your Business (such a great song, btw), you want her to know that you see her, and that you’re there for her while she adjusts to the loss of her relationship. The motivation here isn’t about “Stop,” it’s about “Hi.” It’s about the fact that we are all alone in the world—sometimes more than other times, but following a big-deal breakup, we are very much alone in the world—and having people you love and trust and know pay you the respect of saying something, even something little, about changes and choices during all of this grief and transformation—good, bad, whatever—is the only hope any of us have. So, yeah: say something, but say it well.