Ryan Chartrand

In these analyses on romantic relationships, we are actively thinking about the qualities good relationships should have.

This is a dating column. From this and other reading, personal and vicarious experiences, and common sense, we formulate our own ideas on what constitutes a good relationship.

Sometimes we are so presumptuous as to proceed to preach those ideas to others. By virtue of that fact, this is also (something like but not necessarily) an advice column.

I don’t like to be given advice.

I’ve always had some trouble with criticism. As an independent (OK, snooty) kid, I liked to figure things out on my own without parental “suggestions” or “tips” from other overbearing know-it-alls like myself.

I’ve since learned the benefits of constructive criticism, but admittedly, I’m still learning to temper my defenses when someone decides I need advice – especially advice on the subject I love to write about most.

You may think, how hypocritical of your friendly Daily dating columnist! How can the author be turned off by relationship advice when a dating column naturally lends itself to advice-giving?

The answer is simple and applies to everyone: we like to give advice, but we don’t like to get it – especially when it comes to relationships.

Many of us like to think of ourselves as relationship experts. We take it upon ourselves to serve as objective sources of sometimes-comfort and sometimes-brutal honesty, to friends who are too caught up in the trouble to be able to see things as clearly as we can.

Example: your best friend has been seeing this guy for awhile, and from your vantage point it’s going nowhere fast. From her ranting, you deduce that he’s controlling, jealous, and inflexible, and the problem is, she’s being passive about it.

She comes to you to dish about her troubles, and you immediately do what you do whenever your friends find themselves entangled in romantic turmoil: you switch into psychologist mode and push up the proverbial glasses on your nose (Freudian – I mean, Austrian – accent optional).

You have to admit – it’s somewhat empowering to think we know better than everyone else.

Isn’t it our duty and responsibility as good friends, to 1) protect our friends from heartache and 2) impart the knowledge of our own past experiences so others can learn from it?

We have good intentions, of course. BUT – let’s turn the tables:

You’ve been seeing this guy for awhile. Things have been rocky lately. He gets upset without warning; when you talk to him about it, he shuts down, and you can’t push the matter further without making the both of you more upset.

You go to dish about your troubles to your best friend, who immediately says he’s controlling, jealous and inflexible. The problem, she tells you, is that you’re being passive about it, and the solution is simple: drop the guy. You can do better.

Whether you agree or not, I imagine you’d feel an impulse to punch her in the nose (and it may take a moment to restrain yourself and remember we’re civilized beings). No one likes to have their mistakes pointed out, even by the closest, most trusted of friends.

Relationship advice between friends is a precarious business. People with romantic troubles don’t always want or think they need help; after all, the relationship is the territory of only the two parties in question; “help” from outside can feel like an intrusion.

When a friend’s advice is “Drop him/her; you can do better,” it’s natural to become defensive. Such advice threatens both the relationship itself and your own confidence in your decision-making capabilities.

If you do decide to listen, you may find yourself in a tug-of-war between the friendship and the romantic relationship. Do you listen to the loyal friend you’ve had for years, or your own feelings of love and/or affection for your partner?

From the other end: Those giving advice can think too highly of their own counsel, and forget that objectivity won’t reveal all when it comes to emotions. Only the two people in the relationship can really know the detailed dynamic of emotion between them.

To sum it up: don’t give advice unless it is explicitly asked for; and don’t expect advice unless you explicitly ask for it!

When giving a friend advice, remember it is simply your opinion. Be wary of overstepping your boundaries; say things with as much neutrality as you can muster. Ultimately, the decisions to be made are in his or her hands.

(Certainly there are situations concerning your friend’s safety and well-being; in such cases it is up to you to make the judgment call.)

When you listen to a friend’s advice, remember that he or she cares about your happiness, and that it is not meant to be an ad hominem attack on you or your partner.

We all think our own thoughts and methods are the “right” ones for us, and sometimes we think they’re right for others too. Sometimes we’re right; sometimes we’re wrong; and sometimes we need help to figure it out.

One snippet of advice (even though you didn’t ask for it): Whether we’re hearing it or giving it, none of us should ever be beyond taking our own advice.

Sarah Carbonel is an English and psychology junior and Mustang Daily dating columnist.

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