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Carolyn Hax: Honesty brings backlash

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: How much honesty do you think we owe friends when they ask us difficult questions? I have a friend I’ve known since I was a teen who comes to me when he has relationship problems. The latest is that his wife of less than a year left him, stating only that she had never really wanted to marry him but convinced herself that she did. She’s now gone and they are in the process of divorce.

He immediately joined an online dating service, and went on a few dates before the soon-to-be-ex had even moved out (although he accused her of cheating when she did the same thing – this is an early 30s woman and mid-40s man, for context). So when he asked me what I thought, I told him I thought he was dating far too soon and needed to give himself time to heal. He blew up and accused me of wanting him to be “lonely and alone every night.” I backed off.

It’s been a few months since then and he was just told by a different woman after several dates that she doesn’t want to see him anymore.

He is reacting with a level of devastation that seems disproportionate. When he asked me directly, “Do you think I am broken?” I suggested that he is feeling this more deeply because he is still coping with the pain of being left by his wife.

He responded by defensively saying “Excuse me for developing feelings for someone!” He hasn’t talked to me since.

So now here I am, feeling irritated and contemplating telling him to stop asking me what I think if he doesn’t want honest answers. Your thoughts?

– Anonymous

Your friend is a hot mess on a train wreck careening toward a wheelless bus parked next to a red-flag factory.

I’m guessing a cause, not effect, of the abortive marriage.

Therefore, everything you say will be wrong. You’re a good sport for trying, though.

If he cools off enough to ask for your opinion again, and if you still think his friendship is worth having, you’re welcome to:

• Point out that didn’t go so well the last couple of times.

• Ask him whether he really wants your opinion, or just your sympathy.

• Suggest he talk to a good therapist to sort out his feelings, because he is obviously unhappy both with his situation and with your attempts to help him.

• Or forge ahead with telling him the truth as you see it.

Feel free also to point out that you don’t appreciate the freeze-outs in response to opinions he asked you to give. You care about and have stood by him, and yet he pushes you away unless you tell him what he wants to hear; ask him to imagine how this tactic of his will go over with new people he meets.

Each of these options is probably good for at least a week’s worth of silence in its wake, so don’t worry about trying to tailor your answer to avoid his sensitivities.

Serve your own integrity, don’t take him personally and hope he gets the help he plainly needs.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon each Friday at washingtonpost.com.