Should Friends Offer Honesty or Unconditional Support?

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Lindsey Konchar has known her best friend, Caroline since Caroline was born. Their mothers have been best friends since the seventh grade, so even though Konchar is two years older than Caroline, and the two attended different schools in their hometown of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, there was no escaping each other. “We were quite literally forced to be friends,” Konchar told me. But even after they moved out of their mothers’ homes, the friendship continued.

Konchar stayed in Minnesota for college, while Caroline attended school in Boston and then moved to New York City, where she started dating someone. (Caroline is being identified by a pseudonym to protect her privacy.) At first, the new relationship seemed marvelous, “all butterflies and roses,” Konchar recalled. But over time, Caroline’s updates on the relationship grew less cheerful and more vague. To Konchar, a social worker, something seemed off, and a visit to NYC only solidified her concerns that Caroline’s partner wasn’t treating her well. “She wasn’t her happy-go-lucky self,” Konchar recalled. On the final day of her visit, Konchar decided to express her concerns about the relationship. She chose her words carefully, making sure to cite specific examples, use “I” statements, and clarify that she was speaking up only because she was worried about her friend’s safety. But Konchar could tell that Caroline wasn’t having it. “Her walls went up,” Konchar told me. “We didn’t talk for a long time.”

The dilemma that Konchar faced—whether to say something or bite her tongue—gets at a long-running debate about what it means to be a good friend. Is it appropriate to tell a friend when you think they’re making a bad decision? Or is a friend’s role to offer steadfast and unconditional support, and leave the unsolicited advice to parents, spouses, or siblings? Those parties may feel more entitled or obligated to speak up because their relationships are better defined and more formalized. But it’s difficult to speak about authority or obligation in friendship, which is to some extent defined by what it’s not: Friends are those who choose to be in one another’s lives although they don’t fulfill a specific role. Even between close friends, it can be tricky to pin down exactly what, if anything, two people owe each other.



Alessandra Sanguinetti / Magnum



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