I'm in my late 60s, married for the second time. A longtime friend--my age, divorced, and now widowed has had two boyfriends in the last year. Both broke up with her. She said she slept with both on the first date. I mentioned that for me doing that never worked...explaining why. I did not tell her what was right for her. I did imply it, though. Was I wrong?
What is your opinion about giving such advice when not exactly asked?
Dear Was I wrong?
I am so grateful for this timely question. We’re currently in the Jewish month of Elul, when we begin the process of asking forgiveness as we approach Yom Kippur. Your letter reminds me that sometimes it doesn’t matter if we were wrong, but simply that we hurt someone who matters to us, and that asking for their forgiveness can be appropriate even if our intentions were worthy.
Maybe your friend felt camaraderie and was emboldened to recognize that she, like you in the past, had entered a dating pattern that wasn’t working for her. Or maybe she felt judged, or unheard, when you shared your experience – it’s impossible to know unless you ask her, which if she’s a good friend, I’d suggest doing.
Your second question is more complicated. I think anyone who is old enough to read this has been on both the giving and receiving end of unsolicited advice. Relating to others by sharing our own experiences can be so connecting, comforting, affirming – human.
It amazes me how so many things are universally felt.
It also amazes me how many things are uniquely felt.
I’ll elaborate with a personal example (since you asked!).
I have been very open about having experienced postpartum depression / anxiety. Because of this many people have approached me, over the years, to ask more about a condition that is so widely stigmatized. Usually, they’re women reaching out because they suspect that they might have it. And it feels incredibly good to be able to direct them towards assistance, to know that my having experienced something so excruciating was not for nothing.
Recently, I was talking to a young woman who I immediately identified with – it was a visceral sensation to hear her recount the anxieties and struggles that so confused her after the birth of her baby. I wanted - badly - to ease her pain, and sent her the list of resources that I’ve shared with others. But I felt like it wasn’t enough in this case – I wanted to help faster / more / better.
So I sent suggestions for podcasts – music and interviews that soothed me – meditations, local support groups, food ideas (protein smoothies!) breast feeding advice (a bottle would be fine!). I told her exactly what medications assisted me and the dosages. When I got off the phone, a wave of panic flushed through my body. Though well intentioned, I realized I had gone too far. Even if everything I said was true for me, it might not be true or right for her. She, like me, would need to find her own qualified team of support. I called her back and apologized, explaining that I have a degree in poetry and not medicine, and that I think she should call a doctor.
This, of course, is not analogous to the situation that you’ve laid out here.
It’s just something from my own life that was powerful and taught me that in some circumstances my doing more listening than speaking, more hearing rather than trying to solve someone else’s situation, might be the most useful action.
I don’t think you’re wrong. I just think you’re human. And this is the perfect time to contemplate that and ask for your friend’s forgiveness in case you hurt her. It may turn out that she feels there’s nothing to apologize for, but I’m sure she’ll appreciate your asking.
BE WITH US FOR HIGH HOLIDAYS