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Posted on Sun, Feb 12, 2012 : 5 a.m.

Relationship advice to friend backfires

By Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

I was asked for relationship advice by a friend of my girlfriend. I gave what I thought was good advice, which led to said friend breaking up with her boyfriend. Rightly so, he was cheating.

Fast-forward six months and now this friend and the cheater are of course getting back together. And my girlfriend is ticked because her friend is distancing herself because of the advice I gave, and it's all my fault that her social group is falling apart. So what should I do now?

-- Am I a Horse's Patoot?

Ask her whether you're also to blame for the housing bubble, Citizens United and the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown.


I realize it's rich of me to declare that an advice-slinger is not responsible for any advisory fallout. But the nature of advice and the fact of adult autonomy combine to reduce your liability here to almost nothing. You say you thought it was good advice; if you gave it with care and without a hidden agenda, then you served as nothing more than one of many sources of information.

The friend herself -- the one who weighed your views against other information she received, formed an opinion and chose a course of action -- is ultimately responsible for breaking up with the guy, and for getting back together with him, and for doing so without sufficient courage to look her know-too-much friends in the eye.

Translation: She's not distancing herself because you said something stupid; she's distancing herself because she knows she's doing something stupid.

Do I know this? No ... but don't we all know this? Unless your girlfriend is completely blind, she knows her friend is the one straining the social ties, too, but she's blaming you anyway. Why? Is she punitive, or easily tempted by scapegoats, or otherwise inclined to dump on whoever's convenient?

Could you ask her, "Would you have advised Friend differently -- or not advised her at all?" Is she honest, or would she answer as needed to justify pointing the finger at you?

Or: Did you have an agenda you failed to mention? Doesn't seem that way, but, worth asking.

Please try to answer the questions this situation has raised about you and your girlfriend; I'm guessing that will tell you where the patoot fits.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Dear Carolyn:

I switched jobs last year but remained friends with three co-workers. I've stayed very close to two of them. Today I met up for lunch with the third, "Rachel," and she spent the whole time making very negative comments about "Becky."

Becky is one of my closest friends, and believes she's good friends with Rachel. Rachel not only complained about her mistaken belief that Becky is lazy, but also complained that Becky likes to tag along with her to Jewish social events. Rachel and I are both Jewish; Becky is not. I have occasionally extended an invitation to Becky, since I don't see these events as exclusive.

Rachel isn't mad at me for inviting Becky, but is livid that Becky would even consider showing up. I find this extremely discriminatory.

Should I drop Rachel as a friend? We don't have much in common, but she's gone through a really rough time with the death of a parent, and I'd feel horrible abandoning her. I'm also not sure if I should tell Becky what's being said about her -- I don't want to meddle, but I also don't like that someone she trusts and cares about is so cruel to her.

-- Dumping a friend

When someone bad-mouths your closest friend and believes things you find "extremely discriminatory," it's hard to argue for maintaining the friendship.

However, if Rachel's behavior today doesn't square with her attitudes and actions of the past, then consider giving her a second chance, on the theory that her grief was also at lunch with you today, in the form of uncharacteristic and misplaced hostility.

Another argument for another chance: It'll allow you to say what you apparently didn't this time. "Rachel, I'm not comfortable with this topic. Becky is one of my closest friends, and I know she thinks highly of you, too."

That would have been a three-way solid, good for you, Becky and Rachel, since it would have clarified your loyalties -- to Becky, to kindness and to transparency.

It also would have presented Rachel with a choice: Be more politic about her complaints, or prepare for them to find their way back to Becky.

I suggest you make that connection explicit, by urging Rachel, "If this is really how you feel about Becky, then please talk to her about it directly. If she raises the subject with me, I won't lie to her."

If Rachel neither backs down nor comes clean with Becky, and you remain Rachel's friend, then she'll effectively have deputized you in betrayal. Rachel's grief matters, but principles matter more.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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