I love helping people feel good about themselves, but I can’t stand being fake — especially when someone asks for my honest opinion. If a friend says to me, “I want your honest opinion,” it’s because she wants to hear the truth…not what I think she wants to hear.
(Well…if she did just want me to tell her what she wanted to hear, she learned the hard way that’s not what I was going to give her.)
I mean…sorry I’m not sorry. I don’t have anything to gain from letting my friends be ridiculous. Being honest is an important part of being a good friend. How many times have you looked back on something you’ve done — whether it was bad eye shadow or a bad relationship — and wondered where the hell your friends were during that time? Um, yeah…not letting that shit happen on my watch.
But before you start thinking I verbally attack women for sport, let me be clear: part of the reason people come to me for an honest opinion is because I’m pretty tactful. And because, apparently, an honest friend is actually a pretty rare thing. But that’s crazy! We can all be better friends in this way. Here are some ways to be supportive and honest.
- Don’t give unsolicited advice. Sometimes a friend just wants to talk; she isn’t asking for your opinion. So don’t give it. And don’t give unsolicited criticism. Wait until she brings it up. (Because…she will.) Offering a long-winded explanation of what you think without being asked is often what leads to hurt feelings.
- Do let her know ahead of time that you’re an honest friend. This is often really easy to do when you’re discussing another friend — say, the friend with the bad eyeshadow. If your friends say, “If I was doing that, I’d want someone to tell me!” use it as an opportunity to say, “I will always tell you! Seriously…”
- Recognize the difference between keeping things light and making a joke. Actually, using a joke to tell someone your honest opinion is probably the most hurtful thing because it makes us feel like we’re being mocked. When that happens, I think of a phrase I recently heard via Leah/”Last Comic Standing”: LOLCI. Laughing out loud, crying on the inside! “Oh hahahaha I better laugh along with everyone else or they’ll give me a hard time for being sensitive…but actually I’m really self-conscious about this thing and my face is getting hot and my eyes are filling with tears and now I feel like I know how you really feel!” Um, don’t cause that in a friend! Your joke isn’t funny.
- The fact is this: when a woman asks about an outfit, she’s actually asking you if it makes her look skinny. If it accentuates something she’d rather hide, then you need to say that.
- Have go-to phrases that let you state your opinion gently. When answering the question of “Do you like this [insert clothing item here]?” my go-to responses are, “I’m honestly not crazy about it” “It’s OK but it doesn’t really do anything for you and you want to buy clothes that do something” and “I just don’t think it’s super flattering.” I mean, really, it depends on the situation.
- Point out what it is you don’t like about something — and try to keep it general instead of focusing on her specifically. Something like, “Well I like the color but I think the empire waist tends to make a lot of women look pregnant, even when they are thin and especially those of us with bigger boobs!” Making it more general and relating it to yourself can often help.
- Hyperbole can sometimes work too. “I know high-waisted pants are really trendy right now but I feel like anyone who is not Gisele can’t really pull them off. I wish we all could, though, because I love them in theory!” Remember, keeping it light and making jokes are two different things!
When it comes to dating/relationships…
- Fight the urge to spin everything to make your friend look like a winner. Be real. And give your friends some credit; they can handle criticism! But homegirl doesn’t need you cheering her on as she goes reading a guy’s texts.
- Seriously think about what she’s asking you. If a friend says, “Am I being crazy?” think about the question. Is she being crazy? Don’t just give a stock response. A good friends thinks about it because she actually cares.
- Always say it with love. Seriously, I often start the sentence with, “I mean this with a lot of love…” I love my friends. I want them to be successful in love and I absolutely believe they can be! But I don’t believe they can be if they are reading a guy’s texts and being crazy. Sorry I’m not sorry…again, DBR.
There’s actually an article in this month’s Marie Claire on this very topic with some good tips for ending this whole female enabling culture. The article suggests that when answering a question like “Be honest: am I single because I’m fat?” you can say something like “I think you’re one of the most wonderful women I know but I also think men can be superficial and might not get to know you. If you’re interested in getting in shape, it might attract more men. How can I help you do this?” (Um, but put that in your own words please. Sounds a littttttle scripty, MC.) The article says to enable the goal, not the self-deception.
Ways you can make your friendships more honest…
- Talk to your friends about this topic! Seriously! Send them the link to this post and say, “Let’s agree to be tactful and honest with each other all the time.”
- Come up with a “safety word.” Sometimes I just say, “Don’t be That Girl.” That’s my way of saying, You’re crossing into bad ridiculous territory and you don’t want to be That Girl, so snap out of it. You and your friends can agree on your word or phrase that means, “I love you, but I’m judging you and you need to pull it together. You’ll thank me for this some day.”
- Be honest with yourself. I can’t say it enough. Don’t ask your friend, “Am I being crazy?” until you’ve asked yourself, “Am I being crazy?”…and then put down the guy’s phone and the bottle of tequila long enough to actually answer that question.
- Use honesty as a way to build your friendships. I’ve gotten closer to my friends as we have these real conversations. When a friend comes to me and says, “I know that what I’m doing is pretty crazy. Do you think I’m taking it too far?” I respond to her vulnerability with compassion because I have so much respect for the fact that she’s even asking me. And it makes me want to be more open to my friends’ opinions in return.
And, most important of all (this could probably just be a rule)…
- Stop asking ridiculous questions in which you’re pretending you want an honest response but you’re really just asking for confirmation. STOP IT, WOMEN. Stop, stop, stop. STOP. If you can’t handle an honest answer, then do not ask the question. You’re setting your friend (and your sister and your mom and your boyfriend) up for failure.
- Let your friends be good friends. Let them stop you from being That Girl (even if That Girl is very close to…who you are).