The mythology of intense friendship, particularly female friendship, is often one that involves honesty. Heavy doses of it. The "tell each other everything" dictum is a powerful one, to the point where anything that doesn't get passed between lady friends on a phone date is viewed as a betrayal of the principle of BFF. But this isn't actually fair or particularly realistic; there are, in all healthy relationships, spaces where kindness, generosity, and self-preservation should dominate over the urge to spill the truth. In other words, there are some things you don't have to tell even your best friend.
There are some areas where your friend may simply not want to hear about a particular issue; a friend with fertility issues may, for instance, ask not to hear any gossip or news in that department from your side. But there are deeper issues, to do with intimate parts of your life and future, that you're not 100 percent required to dish to a best friend. Not doing so isn't an invalidation of your closeness, and choosing to sequester various parts of your experience while they share all of theirs doesn't make yours an uneven friendship. The decision to share sensitive information with a friend is, in these five instances, a choice, not a given. And you can't assume you deserve it from them unquestioningly, either.
Here are five things that you aren't obligated by the "rules of friendship" (whatever those are) to disclose to your best friend.
1. Traumatic Episodes From Your Past
If you've been unlucky enough to suffer from something traumatic in your past, whether it's abuse, serious illness, or something else, the general advice is often to share in order to help you heal. It's a standard bit of perspective: the organization Eating Disorder Hope, for instance, recommends that "opening up is essential to recovery." But this ignores something necessary about the process of revealing trauma: some people are not going to have helpful responses. And even if you dearly love your best friend, if they're not going to be helpful, then it's not a good idea to let them know.
Dr. Dori Laub, who's worked with those listening to the experience of Holocaust survivors, categorizes people who are told of the traumatic lives of others into several categories. They can end up being paralyzed or apathetic, respond with anger, over-praise the victim, start to interrogate them on what happened, or become "overwhelmed" and over-empathetic. These are coping strategies, but none of them are particularly good responses for the people sharing their most intimate vulnerabilities. If you've tested the ground and noticed any of these reactions in response, prioritize your own safety and ability to feel heard, and don't feel obligated to pursue it further if you don't want to.
2. Goals They Wouldn't Necessarily Understand
Good friendship usually involves a realistic view of each person's limitations. Nobody is perfect, and getting to know somebody necessarily involves knowing their flaws; Psych Alive points out that, in any intense friendship or relationship, research has shown that forgiveness is the most important category to keep things healthy and long-lasting. Knowing somebody's flaws up-front also involves being realistic about what they can and cannot do for you. And if there are aspects of your life or plans for your future that you don't believe they'd support, it's not completely necessary to tell them.
We ask a lot of our friends, but their understandings of life are their own, and they just might not "get" certain things: you wanting kids, or to move to India, or to become CEO by the time you're 40. This isn't really about avoiding arguments; it's about whether you can pursue these things without their support, and whether their approval has to be obtained first. You can love 'em and also not want to hear their bewilderment at your plan to be an artist.
3. Your Intimate Health Details Or Those Of Your Family
Some of us are just not comfortable sharing things about the viscera of our bodies, or feel unprepared to deal with the misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding various diagnoses. And that's OK! Best friends aren't entitled to know about what happens between you and your doctor; it's your information, not theirs. You're not obliged to give any loved one a running commentary on a medical issue you don't particularly want to talk about.
This goes double for medical issues that are happening within your family; access to the health status of your circle is a privilege, not a right, and while you might not think twice about calling your bestie if a cancer diagnosis hits, you're also not a bad person if you'd rather not. Sharing is sometimes a very good idea: it helps people understand limitations and give the best support possible. But it's also not something that should be seen as a natural, inarguable part of friendship.
4. Other People's Secrets
Got multiple best friends? Feel like an assh*le if one tells you something and asks you not to tell the others? Or get a wave of guilt if your bestie asks what's going on in your life and you've been sworn to secrecy about something big?
The strictures of friendship don't mean that you automatically get to override your loyalty or promises to other people. You are not obligated to tell your friends the secrets of your spouse, your coworkers, or your parents; they don't get a free pass to the closely-held details of lives that come into contact with yours. If they do pressure you to tell them something you'd rather not, you need to have a serious discussion with them about boundaries; it's a classic sign of a toxic friendship that a friend demands priority and access above all other people, including partners and family members.
5. Your True Feelings About Their Partner Or Choices
Honesty is, to be frank, not always the best policy with friends, at least not when delivered without any empathy or gentleness. This is a tricky thing to articulate, and it's not everybody's perspective, but I'm of the opinion that it's not strictly necessary to stick to 100 percent honesty when it comes to your friend's own choices and your view of them. If you believe they're at risk or in serious trouble, then it's valid to say something; but if it's merely a case of different life paths or things you don't see yourself doing, it can be more respectful to simply keep your opinion out of it.
It's also important to be diplomatic and, above all, kind; we're learning increasingly that kindness in delivering opinions and listening to partners is very important in intimate relationships, and best friendships can be more intimate than many romantic pairings. Even if you think their latest choice of job is complete idiocy, or that their mother is treating them like a doormat, it's always important to communicate with kindness.
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