Dilemmas: Should I tell my friend the bad news about her new lover?

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Iris's best friend slept with a new man when they were drunk. Now she's excited, almost preparing for marriage. But Iris has heard that he's told a friend it was all very funny, and he was dragged to bed by her. Should she tell her friend?

Isn't it interesting to see what happens after a one-night stand? He brags to his mates that it was nothing - he was dragged to bed by a beautiful woman and hey, what a stud he is and yet what a nightmare it all was; she, on the other hand, justifies it by practically setting a marriage date with wedding bells pealing over the countryside.

What is Iris's role in all this? For she, too, has a part in the drama. Is it a kind of aggression that makes her want to reveal to her friend a confidence that will hurt her desperately, and sabotage any relationship the two lovers might have in the future? Or is it a weird kind of desire for absolution, a belief that honesty is the best policy, however cruel?

Some people can keep secrets. They are the better type of person, those who realise that their knowledge has the potential to hurt. The others are those within whom secrets itch to get out, within whom secrets feel like a burp or a fart, painful blobs of poison gas that need release. The truth is that the man might just have been boasting; and her friend might just have been fantasising. There is always a chance that they may have the opportunity of a real relationship together. And if Iris is so keen on telling the truth, then shouldn't she, logically, tell the man, too, about the fact that her best friend has been fantasising about marriage? That would put the cat among the pigeons.

Secrets are very hard to bear. They fester within us, longing for an outlet. Gossip is a useful way of discharging the burden of secrets without actually telling the protagonists in a situation that you know about them. By telling her friend directly that her one-night stand has been behaving badly, at least in conversation, Iris risks losing the friendship. It is the bearer of the bad news, after all, who frequently is put to the sword, not the perpetrator of the act.

She should ask herself which is more painful: losing a friendship, or keeping the secret? Keeping a secret is often agonising, but it is often the right and moral thing to do, for in the long run you find that the secrets are distortions of the truth, and it's only later that you are delighted to find they have no foundation.

I recently had a "frank and truthful" letter from a friend, about a situation in which I had not acquitted myself too well, that hurt me enormously. Had she never written, the problem would have sorted itself out satisfactorily. No more would have been said; time and general goodwill would have sorted it out. She described the letter as a method of "lancing the boil", but the very fact that she had written a letter created another boil. Those who attempt to mediate by telling the truth, in other words, often get killed or punished in the telling.

If I were Iris, I would not attempt to interfere in something that is none of my business anyway. She is a confidante, a friend, not a spy. And if she is a true friend she must bear the burden of confidence she has been given, and do her best to erase it from her mind.

what readers say

Who are you to know best?

I haven't heard of such a large assumption since the Virgin Mary. What do you mean, you have heard he thought it was funny? Who are you to know that he has just used her?

If you were in court your deductions would be laughed at. Leave them alone - don't listen to second-hand gossip, don't think that the Chinese whispers you have heard reflect his feelings, and certainly don't tell anyone who might be hurt by it.

Toby Butler

Hampton Court

Surrey

Just be a good friend

The role of a best friend, in offering insight into a new guy, changes as the relationship develops. If he fails to ring at an early stage, there are so many possible reasons, ranging from the lack of interest that you suspect in this man, to the genuine affection but reluctance to start a new relationship that might be seen in a decent bloke who's just emerged from another relationship.

At this initial stage, your friend would gain nothing from being told the brutal truth of the former, when a gentler let-down would be to believe the latter. Obviously, if your friend dates this guy for some time and he's behaving like a rat, then you would be bound through loyalty to tell her what you suspect about him.

I'm always slightly suspicious of "best friends" who seem to take great glee in telling you how indifferent a guy is; it smacks of envy and spite. Are you sure you're not feeling slightly piqued at being usurped in her affections by this new guy?

In any case, even if your motives are pure protectiveness, you can't believe everything you hear; lads by definition lad about with their laddy mates, and it may be that this guy really does like your friend, but has been boasting. I would keep quiet for the moment, but if the phone remains silent, be there with a box of tissues, a bottle of wine and a copy of Bridget Jones's Diary.

Leyla Sanai

Glasgow

Don't make judgements

No - absolutely not; you would be making judgements about the actions of two consenting adults, and you would be colluding in hearsay. Even if the conversation between the two men has been repeated verbatim, it may in itself have been an exaggeration.

Allow free access of communication between the two parties. Your friendship will best be served by lending an ear when asked.

M Leishman

London W4

Your role is to be a support

No, no - please don't tell her. But listen with interest and pleasure to her dreams - perhaps with a casual "Well, it may be a bit early to make plans. You might go off him ..."

Then, if it all falls apart, as you fear, she can turn to you, her best friend, for support and commiseration that "he wasn't worth it", and, "you'll find a much better fellow who'll see what a lovely girl you are", etc.

What she wants is your friendship at this time - not a kick in the teeth.

Katherine Whittle

Bolton

Lancashire

Iris's friend must take the consequences of her actions

I think adults are better off when they take responsibility for their own lives.

I know this can be hard, but it can lead to learning and growth.

One difficulty is that Iris cannot be sure of the facts. Hearsay can be misleading, and confuse the issue. On an adult level, I think that Iris needs to take a step back and not get involved (unless invited by her friend).

If Iris's information is correct, her best friend has a shock in store. However, it was her friend's choice to do what she did, and her decision to react the way she has. Iris's friend will be stronger for bearing the full consequences of her own actions, painful though they may be.

Iris, as a best friend, can be there as a true source of support.

Nicholas E Gough,

Swindon

Wiltshire

Next week's dilemma

You'll think this a trivial problem, but last week I had beautiful long hair and I went to the hairdresser asking for a trim and he persuaded me to have it all cut off in a new, short style. Since then I have been beside myself with unhappiness. I cry every time I look in the mirror. People say it will grow again, but it could take months or even years. I can't bear the idea of wearing a wig. I just don't look like me any more. But I can't understand why I am so depressed. I have even felt suicidal, though I would never go ahead with it.

Sara

Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send comments to me at the Features Department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293 2182), to arrive by next Tuesday morning. And if you have a dilemma that you would like to share, please let me know.

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