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How Do I Support My Friends… Even When I Think They’re Wrong?

Is "ride or die" just enabling in disguise?

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a really silly movie. Released in 1953, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell play best friend showgirls who get into hijinks because Marilyn Monroe’s character pursues men for money. My husband and I watched it the other night; I was fascinated. Of course, the gender and social stereotypes are dated, the costumes are elaborate, the dance numbers are absurd. But what I’m still thinking about two weeks later is the friendship between the two women.

Lorelei (Monroe) makes some questionable decisions, her behavior is impulsive, her motives are selfish. Best friend Dorothy (Russell) doesn’t approve, but Dorothy sticks by her friend’s side. She supports Lorelei through each precarious and hilarious predicament she creates. There is a hilarious scene involving a pitcher of water and a man’s pants. There is a cockamamie incident in a courtroom; Dorothy risks her neck, and Lorelei is saved so that she can marry the millionaire! The therapist inside of me is a little bit concerned about Dorothy as an enabler, but the rest of me admires the way this fictional relationship plays out and each woman’s confidence in one another and in themselves. It’s ride or die in 1953.

Fast forward to 2015 and I’m wondering about friendships now, and the different ways we’ve handled each other’s questionable decisions over the years. My adolescent years were the most fraught with opinionated discussions between girl friends—quasi interventions—about someone being too drunk at a party or dating the wrong guy. I cannot remember a time these “talks” resulted in anyone changing her behavior; I do remember a lot of tension, note passing between classes, crying, and friendships ending. In college I confronted a friend about her conservative boyfriend who I thought was too controlling; she chose him, and I chose to walk away from the friendship because I didn’t like the she was changing.

I would like to think that by now we have figured out what is and is not our business, accepted that people love who they love, that different things make different people happy, and realized that self-righteous lectures have never helped anyone stop drinking or choosing who to date (BTW, self-righteous lectures never help anyone do anything ever).

That being said, there are still situations that keep me awake at night. It was hard to ride or die for a friend last year when she walked into a marriage with a man she’d only known for a few weeks, or for my friend now who is marrying someone twice her age. Maybe his age doesn’t matter, but she’ll be his fifth wife, and that matters… right? I am feeling like it’s hard to know when being supportive is being a best friend without questions, and when it’s dishonest—or, worse, destructive—to stay silent except for “Congratulations!” Is there an honest place in between, and does anyone know how to get there?

I want to be the Dorothy friend who unquestionably and unconditionally plays along with Lorelei, consequences be damned. But Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is not real life; the heartbreak of divorce is painful, messy business, and it’s hard to watch people I love walk into the fire. My friend’s speedy romance and marriage crashed in less than a year, and I wonder if I could have helped prevent her suffering by expressing concern or asking sensitive questions before the whirlwind swept her away. I think my ask-no-questions standard is based on my own engagement in 2003. No one said anything to me about concerns they had until after I cancelled the wedding. Looking back, I feel confident that I would not have listened to anyone, anyway. I wanted to be excited; I wanted people to see me as grown-up, and to feel as happy for me as I wanted to feel for myself. My decisions had to come from deep inside me, not from those around me. Even when I walked away, it took a long time to peel back the layers of that onion. But that was years ago, and maybe my personal experience isn’t the status quo. It’s time to consider that my friends and I are older and the way we face these situations still has room to grow.

Yet, I hesitate because I don’t really know at all what is going to happen in this chapter of my friends’ lives. There seems to be enough I can worry about in my own life without bogging down in ideas about what might happen or could happen—even probably will happen to the people around me. My friend in college? She married that man, they have lots of children, she seems very happy. I’m the jerk who ended a friendship because I wanted her life to develop by my terms, not her own. Through this lens, I think it’s easier to be a friend who says, “I love you,” and mind my own business than to fantasize about a cinematic, life-changing monologue that saves everyone from making poor decisions (as defined by me the jerk).

And there is the in-between, the concept that keeps me up at night because this black and white thinking isn’t working. Best friends are honest with each other, that’s a part of ride or die, a part of tough love; it’s why we tell each other when there is spinach stuck in our teeth. We aren’t in high school or college anymore—what would I do if I was faced with my friend who married the controlling guy today? I’d like to think that I would act differently, but I am not sure that means I wouldn’t voice concern. I want to be a friend who can ask questions and also be totally supportive when I say, “I’m happy for you.” Concern can exist without judgment. This is the balance I’m hoping for in myself and in my friendships.

There’s no sequel to that movie with Marilyn Monroe, but I like to imagine that Dorothy was still there for Lorelei when it didn’t work out with that millionaire. I imagine she had martinis ready, and did not say, “I told you so,” even one time.

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