Friend fraud: To reach out, or let it be?
June 25, 2016 11:06 PM   Subscribe

A friend from long ago has been accused of business fraud. I am struggling to process this information, and am conflicted about reaching out. Please help me outline a way forward.

My parents were thoughtful enough to forward a link to a breathless newspaper article about a long-ago friend (close, but it's been almost 30 years since we were that close) who has been accused of defrauding his clients. The article didn't have many details, but had I been in the position of his clients, I would be angry that parts of the work hadn't been done. On the other hand, there may be circumstances I don't know about so I am simultaneously thinking "Oh my God, how could he?" and "Don't rush to judgment, you don't know the facts, and this was definitely written for the benefit of outraged eyeballs."

He and I reconnected on Facebook several years back, and our families have visited a few times, in courteous, relaxed circumstances. There's no lingering awkwardness; neither is there intimacy. But I feel like now that I have this knowledge, I am revisiting certain traits and statements. At the same time, I do imagine that he's feeling a fair bit of shame, and I want to reach out to say hey, bad situation, I don't think you're a bad human being. Is reaching out the right thing to do? How do I convey my support appropriately? How do I get past this ambivalence of thinking that maybe my old friend did something wrong, something that broke trust, even if it wasn't with me? Or should I do nothing? If you have been in a similar situation, what happened when you reached out? Are you glad or sorry that you did?

Another aspect of this is my mother's habit of being a disaster vulture. Based on long past experience, this will turn into a lengthy conversation about her secret beliefs about him so long ago, about her sense of not being able to trust anyone, about what could I even be thinking, knowing Someone Like That? I really, really do not want to process my feelings about this anywhere near her. It isn't safe. Suggested scripts, please? I'll be seeing her a few days from now and I am not looking forward to negotiating this subject.

Worst is thinking and worrying that it could be true...and how does a breach of trust, if proven, affect our tenuous friendship even when it has nothing to do with any way I'd interact with him? I don't want to doubt. But I may need to.

Ah, shit, this is tugging at my heart's armor in all sorts of ways. Advice, please?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total)
You're describing this friendship as tenuous. Why contact this person at all? What need of yours does that fulfill? Is there another way that you can meet this need without dealing with this specific person? Because if, as you say, the relationship is tenuous and you're already fairly distant, this isn't really about him.
posted by sockermom at 11:59 PM on June 25, 2016 [16 favorites]

People accused of crimes aren't always guilty, but they are pretty much always isolated because of it. We have a very poor grasp on the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" and that makes it really hard for people in that situation to reach out.

Reading out with an offer of friendship and a chance to catch up is a really lovely thing to do. Worst case scenario, your offer will be ignored.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:02 AM on June 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

If I were your friend, I'd be consoling myself somewhat by trying to convince myself that most people I know don't know about this. Having a distant acquaintance tell me they do would shatter that thin hope.
posted by lollusc at 2:11 AM on June 26, 2016 [20 favorites]

You are so overthinking this, and making it about you (and your relationship with your mother?) when it isn't. Be a friend-ish without taking it on: "I heard a little bit about what's going on. I'm here if you want to talk and I hope it all works out for the best."

You can continue to have non-intimate social interaction with people when unrelated aspects of their lives are messed up. You can also choose not to. What's not cool - and could be seen as a betrayal - is for you to use this as fodder for judgy, gossipy exchanges with your mother. Shut that down when she starts it: "yes I read the link you sent, I hope it's not true but it's not our business and I don't want to talk about it, please pass the peas."
posted by headnsouth at 4:17 AM on June 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

Would you still want to be friends with him if he were guilty? If so continue to be friends with him in the manner you have always been. Don't mention his legal troubles. If him being guilty would make you stop being his friend and the real reason you want to reach out is to hear his side of the story so you can decide: don't. That's just prurient curiosity.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:36 AM on June 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

Don't make him a character in your story. by which I mean, don't suddenly become Super Supportive Friend just because he's going through some stuff. People can see through that and will eventually resent you a lot more for it than they would if you had just remained at your usual distance.
posted by Etrigan at 5:01 AM on June 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

Don't rush to judgment, you don't know the facts
I don't think [he's] a bad human being
I am not looking forward to negotiating this subject [with my mother].


I'm facing a very similar situation with a very dear friend, and the sense of anguish you express so eloquently is very normal, I think. But also remember that it's precisely how your mother wants you to feel, so acknowledge to yourself that you've learned the lesson she taught you and that as an adult you get to decide how heavily to weight your doubts about him against your friendship and empathy for him.

You can avoid the discussion with your mother by insisting that you don't know the facts, your relationship with him over the past several years was not intimate enough for you to make an informed judgment about his guilt, and there's no sense in speculating about any of it. The facts will emerge soon enough.

As to reaching out to him: I would continue your relationship with him as you always have, maintaining plausible deniability for the accusations against him. If he wants to bring it up with you, that's his choice. And then HE has to deal with the awkwardness of broaching the subject
posted by DrGail at 7:45 AM on June 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

If your parents had not sent you the article, would you be in touch with this person right now?

If the only reason you want to get in touch now is because you heard about this crime, this fits my personal definition of "disaster vulture."

I think you show your support by maintaining your normal level of contact and letting your friend bring this up if he wants to.
posted by kapers at 7:49 AM on June 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

At the same time, I do imagine that he's feeling a fair bit of shame, and I want to reach out to say hey, bad situation, I don't think you're a bad human being. Is reaching out the right thing to do? How do I convey my support appropriately? How do I get past this ambivalence of thinking that maybe my old friend did something wrong, something that broke trust, even if it wasn't with me?

Both these things--"bad situation, not a bad human being" and "did something wrong that broke trust" are exclusive. Your ambivalence sounds completely appropriates, and I don't think you have to get past it to reach out and be supportive. Your friend may not be a bad human being, but a good person who did a bad thing. It looks like there are sufficient forces lined up to deal with the bad things; your decision to focus on the other part of the equation doesn't require that you justify or minimize the bad things they did.
posted by layceepee at 9:35 AM on June 26, 2016

Your mom's dramamongering, it sounds like, probably to confirm her worldview. My mom's the same way. Don't reach out. It's not your place. You don't know if the guy is a good person or not and this conflict has nothing to do with you. When your mom brings it up say, yeah, it's a shame, but we really don't know the whole story, then change the subject.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:50 AM on June 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I was in an abusive relationship (a situation similar to your friends in that a lot of people judge you with out having any knowledge of the real facts of the situation) I had a work friend who handled things in a way I found very cool. I have never forgotten his support. One day when there was no one else around, he said quietly, "You know Walker, this too, shall pass." Then he just treated me totally normally after that. It let me know that he supported me without judging me and that he wasn't trying to get juicy gossip details, he genuinely cared.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:50 PM on June 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

I had a situation recently where not great--and wrong--things were said about me in a public forum. I felt terrible and isolated. Many months later, I heard from a colleague that she felt terrible for me but didn't know what to do. She said "everyone" felt so bad about what happened to me. Apparently they all talked to each other but not to me. I was so irritated -- any single one of these people reaching out to me would have been a kindness.

So, I suggest this, "Dear Old Friend, I saw it's been a tough time for you. I wanted you to know you're in my thoughts and I'm sorry to hear about what's going on. I wish you the very best. Let me know if you'd like to talk."
posted by bluedaisy at 8:53 PM on June 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

For your friend: I would probably send a short note along the lines of bluedaisy, "I saw it's been a tough time for you. I wanted you to know you're in my thoughts and I'm sorry to hear about what's going on." However, I would NOT offer to be there to talk about it. First of all, I doubt he would take you up on it - this has been a causal, distant relationship so to me, it sounds like the kind thing people say but don't mean (and don't want to be held to). Second, if I were in your situation, I really wouldn't want to hear about it from him - I would spend all my time wondering about the other side of the story and would not be able to be a supportive audience. It seems more realistic and more helpful to offer to be someone that he can talk to about anything but his problems. So, instead, I would follow my sympathetic comment with an invitation to talk about something else to show that you are inviting more contact in an nonjudgemental way. Ask his opinion about something you have in common or say "I was just thinking about you - remember that time when we...." and mention a good memories that is totally unrelated to his current problem.
posted by metahawk at 12:07 PM on June 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

A number of years ago, a co-worker that I'd kept in sporadic touch with was accused of stealing from the company I used to work for. (We worked at a travel agency and she fudged records/charged client credit cards to get free tickets for herself and her friends.) All of our old co-workers were pretty outraged and cut off communication. I sent her an email that basically said 'I'm guessing you can use a friend about now - I'm here if you need me.' She was really, really grateful and even though we never spoke in great detail, she made it clear how much she appreciated it. She had been feeling extremely isolated and depressed.

We all fuck up sometimes. It costs you nothing to be the one person who doesn't judge, but just holds him in your heart. It doesn't mean you have to defend him or actively do anything to help, it just means that he knows that there's at least one friend out there who doesn't hate him. It can make a big difference.
posted by widdershins at 2:38 PM on June 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

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