You can say anything to your best friend, right? Well, yes and no. Your close relationship gives you lots of leeway, but there's a fine line between honesty and insult. While you may think you've never said anything offensive to your BFF, there have likely been times when your words have inadvertently stung. Saying something as simple as "Hey, have you lost weight?" could elicit a different reaction than you expected, thanks to its loaded meaning, says Jill Melton, communication expert and author of "The Power of the Zip." Read on for nine things you should never say to your best friend, plus learn better ways to get your point across.
"Don't you want children?"
Sure, there are obviously offensive comments you wouldn't make to childless friends, like what a pal once told Helen: "Good thing you never had kids -- you can hardly take care of yourself!" But even the mild-sounding Don't you want children? makes assumptions about what's going on in another person's head and life, says Melton. What if your friend desperately wants kids but is struggling with infertility? Or what if she doesn't want to be a mother but would rather avoid an awkward conversation about her decision? When it comes to discussing kids, let your friend take the lead. "If she wants to discuss her choice, she'll bring it up herself," says Melton.
"You've lost weight!"
"Weight is a dirty word -- period," says Lillian Glass, Ph.D., body language expert and author of "The Body Language Advantage." If you're trying to give a compliment, this statement can confuse, or even insult, your friend. What if she lost weight because she's been depressed? Or perhaps she didn't think she'd lost any weight and now worries that you thought she was overweight before. If you suspect that your friend has slimmed down, just say, You look wonderful! advises Glass. Who knows? She could look great thanks to a fabulous haircut or new outfit; there's no need to make assumptions about what changed. That said, if a friend has dropped an alarming amount of weight and you're worried about her health, then bring it up in a way that conveys your concern, says Melton. Try, I've noticed you're looking thinner lately. Is something going on that you want to talk about?
"That guy you're dating? Not marriage material!"
Lisa's* friend asked her opinion about a new beau, and she gave him the thumbs-down -- with friendship-fizzling results. "My pal ended up marrying the guy, and now she's distant," says Lisa. "I thought I was being a good friend by pointing out the facts, but I should have listened to my dad's reminder, 'Everyone chooses their own sweetheart,' and kept my mouth shut." If your friend's guy seems like a bad choice to you -- but she hasn't asked your opinion -- then keep your judgments to yourself. Aside from having hard evidence about serious stuff (like he has a wife and kids in another city, or is a drug dealer, for example), you really don't know if he's "wrong" for her. If she does ask what you think, then "turn it back to her," suggests Melton. Try, I don't know him as well as you do. Tell me what you like and don't like about him. Then you can base what you say on her response, so your thoughts don't seem out of the blue.
"You bought what?"
if your best friend constantly complains about tough financial times before showing up with a trendy designer bag, then it can be tempting to call her out on her spending. But a judgment-riddled Are you kidding me? What did that cost? is decidedly the wrong thing to say, because "you're not in charge of her budget. She is," says Melton. Consider, too, that you may not know where her money's coming from, says Glass: "What if she's spending a gift from someone else?" So if you notice something brand-spanking new and expensive, then just say, Wow, cool boots or What a great new car. That said, if she asks you for help managing her money (or to borrow some of yours), then gently point out ways she can trim her costs.
"Congrats on a well-deserved promotion! You've been in that position for so long."
What's the problem with a congratulatory remark? A lot, if it's actually a backhanded compliment. The above implies that your friend didn't quite earn the promotion. Instead of suggesting that anyone in her (worn) shoes would have gotten a bump at work, try a hearty, Good for you! Very impressive! suggests Melton. And if your friend suspects that she, say, got that promotion because she'd been in that job so long it would've been embarrassing not to, then leave the door open for her to discuss that with you. You should be a sounding board for your friend, not a sniper.
"How dare you not tell me [you bought a new car/got a new job/met a new guy]!"
On the one hand, says Glass, "It's reasonable to feel slighted if your good friend doesn't share news with you." It's expressing your anger over being left out that's a no-no. "Some friends don't keep you posted on everything for reasons that have nothing to do with you," says Melton. Saying something like this makes the situation all about how you feel excluded, not about what's happening in your friend's life. When you do hear your pal's good news, just tell her, I'm so happy for you. If this happens often and you worry that your friend is keeping updates from you, then open up a discussion about it. Could it be that you haven't been that enthusiastic about her news in the past, or that you've shared her info with others without her permission? See what you could do differently before scolding her for not filling you in.
"I wish my husband were as great as yours!"
Why wouldn't it be wonderful to hear you've scored big in the life-partner department? Because the friend who says this is subtly (or not so subtly) downgrading her own spouse, which can be awkward for the person on the other side of the conversation. "A friend said that to me about my husband when she was going through a divorce," says Shelly.* Feeling uncomfortable and unwilling to bash her friend's spouse, Shelly's taken to responding with, "Yep, he's a good guy," and changing the subject. While occasional compliments are completely fine, avoid making comparisons: "They reveal jealousy," says Glass. If you're having problems with your partner, then you can certainly ask your happily married buddy for advice, adds Melton, "but since every relationship is unique, a comparison isn't a good way to start that conversation."
"Your wedding was so tiny!" or "You're so much bigger than I was when I was pregnant!"
What may seem like a harmless observation to you can actually come across as a cruel comparison. Anna's* friend once said, "It was good you got married first; now I know what I don't want at my wedding!" Anna was floored. Before you say something like that, examine your motives for wanting to do so, suggests Melton. Anna's friend, for example, may have wanted planning advice, and she could have told Anna what she loved about her wedding instead of cutting down her friend's choices. "Try to figure out what exactly your friend's wedding [or pregnancy] triggered in you," says Melton. Are you having second thoughts about some of your wedding choices? Worrying about how much weight you've gained by your second trimester? Once you uncover what's at the root of your observations, you can express your feelings without sounding snarky.
"Don't worry. It'll be fine."
Shelly still feels the sting of friends' trite platitudes when her mother was terminally ill, because, of course, things weren't fine. In situations like this, your friend might be worried for good reason, so saying Don't worry is dismissive, explains Melton. Instead, use your judgment based on the situation. In some cases, saying It'll be fine in a loving, sincere way can show your compassion, says Glass. But much of the time, it's better to use words that show your friend that you feel her pain, that you're pulling for her, and that you may not know what it's like to, say, lose your mother, but you're in her corner as she goes through the worst of it. A simple I'm here if you need me goes a long way, especially if you follow that up with concrete ways to help her through her rough time, whether that's picking up her kids from soccer, bringing over dinner, or just sharing some wine and company.