I think my friend's affair is wrong

But I don't know if I should tell her or not.

Published October 25, 2004 8:34PM (EDT)

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Dear Cary,

I have a friend who has been in a relationship with a married man for the last year. She has confided in me and we have become closer because of the situation. My question is this: How do I remain friends when I now feel that morally what she is doing is wrong? Do I let her know how I feel or do I just listen as a friend and not pass on my judgment of the situation?

Disapproving Friend

Dear Disapproving Friend,

This question does not disclose its intent immediately; it seems to have hidden complexities; it takes a while to see what the fundamental question really is. Should you tell her you disapprove of her affair? Should you go to the store for a quart of milk? Should you scratch your nose? I feel equally baffled by these questions because I do not know what your intent is. Do you want a quart of milk? Do you want to scratch your nose? Do you want to tell her?

Let's start with that: Do you want to tell her? You probably do. Why? Because, like thirst, or an itch, the urge to tell is there. We all have the urge to tell what we think, to disclose, to make ourselves known. Why? Because in the instant of our urge, that is who we are, and we wish constantly to manifest ourselves. You see what I mean? This gets deep quickly.

But perhaps not. Let's back up. You say, "How do I remain friends when I now feel that morally what she is doing is wrong?" So perhaps you are just trying to figure out how to integrate some new information, or new beliefs, into your life. Could it be that you recently have been persuaded by a teacher or a minister that what she is doing is wrong?

If for instance you had recently become a Christian (I'm just guessing) then rather than attack her specific behavior you could just tell her more generally that you have adopted this new set of beliefs. If you have recently read something that has convinced you of the moral wrong, then you could tell her that. That would be kinder and more in the spirit of friendship than simply telling her that you now think what she is doing is wrong. You would be sharing rather than judging.

Say you had recently become a Christian. Christian doctrine says the wages of sin is death, or something like that. So you might want to spread the word. Believing yourself saved, you might want to save her as well. All this, as a friend, you might disclose: That you have undergone a transformation in your belief.

This disclosure might make things uncomfortable between the two of you, but it seems to me you would then be on equal footing: She might disapprove of your newly adopted belief system to the same degree that you disapprove of her affair. If there is a genuine bond of affection between you, perhaps you could like each other in spite of your differences. Or perhaps the gulf would be too great, the discomfort too high.

Whatever the reason you have come to believe that her behavior is wrong, if what you believe comes as self-disclosure rather than judgment, it may be received as an act of friendship. If it comes as a commandment, as though you had all the right answers, as though you had the right to judge her behavior, as though you stood above her, then I think it would be felt as mean and hurtful.

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