Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where writers, fighters, and wearers of miters alike sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about what to do when helping a friend would put you in danger.
Muffle, I’ve got a doozy for you.
There’s this woman who I used to be friends with. Actually, she and her boyfriend were couple-friends with my husband and me. But her boyfriend, after many years of friendship, started showing erratic and hurtful tendencies, and we eventually decided to distance ourselves from them both. Recently, the woman has tried to hang out, saying she’s taking a break from him. I don’t really miss my friendship with her, but I think she needs some help escaping a bad situation. That being said, to me, the guy has so many red flags (for instance, I know he owns a gun), I sometimes worry about him hurting me or my family for associating with her. What do I say to her to protect my family, but help her out of this situation?
First, and most importantly, if you or anyone you know is the victim of domestic violence, there is help available to get you or your friend out of that situation. Resources include the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1−800−799−7233), and many states and cities have local resources available as well. There are also women’s shelters and advocacy groups, moving companies that offer free services to victims of domestic violence, and charities that will provide necessities in times of need. You and your friend are not alone.
With that out of the way, your first priority, always and forever, is the safety and well-being of your family. I admire you for wanting to help someone who was once a friend escape a bad situation, but there’s no universe in which you are obligated to expose yourself or your loved ones to danger for anyone else. You haven’t told us what, exactly, you think she’s getting out of, but I have to assume that you believe that he was abusive to her, either emotionally or physically (and perhaps both). That’s awful, and I’m glad she’s getting out, but something makes you feel unsafe around this man, and you need to listen to that.
That might sound cold, and a little disconnected from advice I’ve given here previously; doesn’t Muffle usually advocate for kindness and compassion? While that’s true, this is a different kind of situation, and you can be kind to this woman without downplaying your instincts. Your gut tells you that this man is dangerous. Do not discount that. I emphasize this because, even in your letter, you’re arguing against your feelings: you call him a “guy,” which sounds friendly and harmless, not a man with a gun who, justified or not, makes you fear for your family’s safety. It doesn’t matter if no one else agrees with your assessment of this man; your spidey sense is tingling, and it would be foolish to ignore it.
So if that’s the case, what do you do? Well, continue to trust those instincts, for one. But I think that, if you feel comfortable doing so, you should meet with this woman (in public) to offer her your sympathy and support. Tell her that, while you’re thinking of her and hoping for the best, and that she’s not alone, you aren’t comfortable getting close to her again until this man is totally out of her life. If you think it’s applicable, provide her with the resources at the top of my response here, and with the number for a local women’s shelter if she is in danger of losing a place to stay. And advise her that, if she’s also afraid, she should file a police report so that her concerns are on the record should anything happen in the future.
Let me be clear: This is going to be a hard conversation. It’s difficult to tell someone going through leaving an abusive relationship that you can’t be there for them without it sounding like you’re abandoning them in their time of need. But you have to do what’s right for you and yours, and you should never regret making that decision.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.