I don’t know about you, but my friends are my everything. Got a pimple? Chan’s my zit inspector. Need some workout motivation? Consider Carly my fitness guru. Have the urge to complain about everything? Alex has got me. Want work advice? Rachel’s on speed-dial. And if I need to craft a text to someone I’m into, all of the above are of service. My friends aren’t just friends, they’re also my dermatologist, trainer, therapist, and dating coach (free of charge, too).
But after years of receiving — and only sometimes taking — advice, I realized that I wasn’t really sure anymore what I was asking for. I started to wonder, how beneficial is it really to go to a non-professional (just someone who knows you really well) for dating advice? After consulting the experts, here’s what I’ll be asking myself before I FaceTime my favorites from now on.
What’s your goal?
“We have this chronic issue of asking for advice when we’re really asking for someone to agree with us so we feel more valid doing [something],” says Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW, founder of Manhattan Wellness Associates. Cut to: me after a date wanting to send a flirty text but not before I get approval from one of the aforementioned friends first. I already know what I want to say, but I’m looking for the one person who is going to confirm it’s OK. “Whether we’re doing it consciously or not, we seek out the person that’s going to tell us most closely what we want to hear,” says Silvershein. “We want to reduce the feelings of discomfort. Rarely are we doing something naughty and reaching out to the person that’s going to reiterate how naughty we were.” If you’re genuinely looking to hear their POV, even if it’s different than yours, that’s solid. And if you’re seeking emotional support and validation before sending a flirty text, that’s OK, too. (As long as you’re not blowing up your friend’s phone to the point of overdoing it, you’re fine.)
Are you telling the full story?
And then there’s the issue of showing your friends the lowlight reel. If you only go to them when your partner’s being an asshole — shocker — they’re going to only think your partner’s an asshole.
“Get comfortable with telling someone the good with the bad and not feeling like you have to downplay it,” says Silvershein. “It’s really confusing for the outside sources giving opinions when they don’t get the full picture.” AKA, if you’re not filling them in on the time they surprised you with an 11-course home-cooked meal and the time they were super rude to your mom, you’re not going to get a well-rounded opinion. Your friend won’t be able to remind you of all of the good things your partner has done and how maybe, this one time, you should let the infraction slide.
Are you remembering who your friend is?
“If you’re talking to a friend who doesn’t like your boyfriend, they might tell you to leave him. I don’t think people can ever give advice that isn’t biased in some way, even if that’s just wanting to see their friend happy,” says Silvershein. Keep in mind, too, that everyone has distinct perspectives. Your friend who’s been in a relationship for 10 years is coming from a very different place than your friend who is single and loving it. When you ask people who’ve only had certain dating experiences for advice, you limit the feedback you could be getting, says Silvershein. “Become aware of who your go-to people are and what the different issues are that you go to them about. When we’re able to recognize that, we realize where they stand ahead of our conversation and know the filtration system or lens through which someone is [developing] their opinions,” she says.
Is it advice or a venting session?
Are you asking for a friend’s advice with no intention of actually taking it? Do you really just want to vent and keep them abreast so that when your life blows up you don’t have to catch them up to speed? Something Carly (bestie and roommate from up top!) does, which I super appreciate, is tell me that she’s probably going to do something in her dating life that she knows I don’t agree with but about which she just wants to fill me in. While I may not be her yes-woman, I respect her for respecting my time and breath when she knows she’s just going to do what she wants anyway. If you recognize this is the case, it’s healthy to include a disclaimer so your friend isn’t upset when you don’t affirm or act on their opinion, says Silvershein.
When should you consult a professional?
“A friend is supposed to be a friend and their counseling you is an add-on — the extra dollar for guacamole, if you will,” says Silvershein. “If we’re using our friends more than 25% or so of the time for advice on crafting texts or [reactions], you probably need some [professional] guidance.”
Bottom line: Your friends don’t know all of the answers, just like you don’t. And while it’s comforting to go to them for things here and there, there are more things to keep in mind than who’s the wittiest texter when seeking your crew’s counsel.