Friend of friend spilled some beans. Do I act or wait?
April 15, 2017 3:02 AM   Subscribe

A friend of a friend of a friend inadvertently let me know that our friends-in-common are getting a divorce. It was completely by accident and she was mortified. I feel so bad for my friend who is going through this. Do I tell her that I know, and see if I can do anything for her? Halp.

I sometimes volunteer with a woman named Wilma. She's married to Fred. Fred's business partner is Barney, and Barney is married to a dear old friend of mine from High School, Betty.

Yesterday Wilma and I volunteering together and she said something innocuous about Betty and Barney. She said that they'd been having family issues and that it was too bad. I said "I know," and made some non-specific comment about how I knew that they'd been having a tough time. I thought she was talking about Betty vs. her mother-in-law, which is an ongoing issue. She thought that I knew that Barney and Betty were getting divorced. I did not know.

Wilma was absolutely mortified. She thought, because of my comment that I knew how tough the family stuff was for them, that they were getting divorced. I knew things were rough but I had no idea it was to that point. Wilma begged my forgiveness and I said it was no big deal, that it was a perfectly innocent slip and that I didn't see it as gossipmongering at all.

When I got home I asked my husband if I should say something to Betty, now that I know. He said that I should wait until Betty tells me. I know she must be going through hell right now and I want to help - whether its with a shoulder or a beer or a moving truck or whatever - but I'm not sure if I should.

Mefites, should I step up and say "I know what's going on, it was a mistake that I found out but I did and I want to help"; or should I play like everything's normal until she is ready to say something? Or something else?

To add an additional level to all this, we (me and my husband, Betty & Barney) are supposed to get together in three weeks for our semi-annual dinner-and-concert double date. So I'm assuming I'd hear something before that. :-/

PS - I also don't want Wilma to get raked over the coals for spilling the beans. I know her fairly well and can honestly say that this sort of secret-telling super-gossip was an accident, and absolutely not in character for her.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you know that's B is having a tough time with family stuff is there any reason why you can't just reach out to her in a generally supportive way? You don't have to say you know about the divorce. You can just be kind and ask how she's doing. If she wants to share she can. If not you really should not force this communication.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:09 AM on April 15, 2017 [45 favorites]

I think your husband is right. Wait until Betty tells you herself. She might do this soon because it sounds as if Wilma will tell her what she's done out of guilt and Betty will reach out to you.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 5:05 AM on April 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think your husband is right. You have to wait until Betty tells you herself. I think it's perfectly appropriate though to get in touch with her to say hi and ask how she's doing. Just don't give her any significant looks or ask any leading questions when you do.

I also would try not to take it personally if she doesn't tell you before your double-date that she's getting divorced. In my experience, sometimes it's harder to hold things together when the people around you are treating you--out of kindness--like a fragile broken thing.
posted by colfax at 5:29 AM on April 15, 2017 [10 favorites]

Your husband is right. It might be way harder for her to tell you than someone who hasn't known her and her husband forever; you will have more emotional investment in her marriage ending than Wilma. She might just not want to deal with that level of emotional...everything. Because your response is immediately to get involved right? YOU want to help? That's not just about Betty -- it's also about you. And some people just need time to be alone and recharge. When she wants you to know, you'll know.

And when she does tell you, please try to actually listen and be present, rather than immediately try to DO things that you think might be helpful but might be more about you feeling helpful than actually helping her. Use this time when you know to process your own feelings about this separately, so that when Betty does tell you, you can just be there for her, whatever shape that might take.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:34 AM on April 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

Betty clearly does not want you to know yet. Do her that kindness in this painful time.
posted by Etrigan at 5:34 AM on April 15, 2017 [14 favorites]

Yup, you need to wait. You don't need to put on a fake show of surprise when Betty tells you, but let her deliver the news. It's her story to tell, in her time.

Also, how sure are you Wilma is right? People misunderstand things, get confused, pass on outdated info, talk shit, and are generally unreliable. Even if you trust her sincerity, that doesn't mean she's on target.

Great characterizations. Kept the players in the story very clear for us.
posted by mattu at 6:08 AM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your husband is completely right that you can tell her you know. You could invite her out for a girls night with the two of you and ask how she's doing. Then you can be supportive and find out if she wants you to know. If she tells you, great - you can be supportive. If she doesn't, great - you now know to act like you don't know.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 6:44 AM on April 15, 2017

While it's clear that you want to help...quite frankly this isn't about you. Not everyone going through a situation like this actually wants help. When my ex and I split up, I told the absolute bare minimum of the people I needed to tell - my parents and the two people I leaned on for direct support (who weren't my normal support network, really). I didn't talk to anyone else about it directly, and that was *the most helpful thing for me in that time.* Just because you know about it doesn't mean your friend actually wants to talk about it. Let her come to you, when and if she wants to. The most helpful thing you can do in the moment is to respect her privacy and her way of processing what she's going through.
posted by okayokayigive at 6:49 AM on April 15, 2017 [11 favorites]

It's always a safe bet to wait to hear things, good or bad, from the relevant person. If you don't hear anything, don't be hurt. It doesn't mean you aren't a confidante, it just means they want to keep a bubble of privacy. That is a rare and beautiful thing for someone to have, especially in a very public and potential nasty situation like a divorce can become.

However, if you want to just be friendly and reach out in only a friendly "Hey, thought of you today and wanted to say hello" way, that is awesome. A normal act in a disheveled time can be a ray of sunshine for folks and Betty could be really looking forward to the dinner as an act of normalcy while all the grit is worked out in the other space in their lives.
posted by missh at 8:28 AM on April 15, 2017

Another reason to leave it alone: Wilma's source is probably her husband, Fred, who is Barney's business partner, rather than Betty herself. Fred might have legit need to know, e.g., if a divorce will affect the company's ownership structure, but he could also just be relaying an instance of Barney blowing off steam, catastrophizing, justifying bad behavior or, worse, a plan by Barney that Betty doesn't know about yet. Stay out of it until you have first hand information.
posted by carmicha at 5:25 AM on April 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nothing good can come of telling her you know. (You may not even "know" - you've heard a rumor.)

The fact that you haven't heard it from Betty, and that Wilma was mortified to have breached her confidence, means that Betty hasn't wanted to tell you. I understand the urge to "help" but honestly it sounds like you're a little miffed that Betty didn't tell you already, and want to get into that inner circle of being her shoulder to lean on. You'll hear something before your group date, don't worry.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:52 PM on April 16, 2017

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