I am a professional at dishing out advice. We all are. Or rather, we like to think of ourselves as such.
I am all too quick to spit out my opinions when others come to me with their ‘problems’ or with an issue at hand. It feels like my duty when it’s so god damn obvious why they are stuck in the same habitual pattern. And yet they are blind to the reality of the situation.
For me, this has always been in the realm of dating. It’s hilarious because I haven’t even been in a long-term relationship and yet I feel qualified to objectively advise people what they should do in the next move of their budding courtship. It’s usually pretty accurate and spot-on, even when it gets delivered harshly and is not exactly what the other person wants to hear.
But taking my own very logical and practical advice? Hell no. I’ve got to fumble around and make stupid mistakes to figure it out for myself.
Likewise, in a rare blue moon will a friend actually follow through on the advice I’ve given them. They also have to figure it out for themselves, come to the same conclusion on their own terms and through their own fumbling around in the dark.
When they finally do the thing that truly serves them that you were telling them to do from the start, it’s perceived as some big revelation, a personal journey and final conclusion they’ve somehow arrived upon on their own.
Meanwhile, on the inside you’re laughing and rolling your eyes simultaneously.
Most people have to arrive at their own decisions by means of their own personal process. It’s why I think advice is rarely useful, despite being an obvious piece of wisdom that could help the other person.
In the process of figuring things out on our own, we gain valuable lessons that we couldn’t have absorbed in a mere conversation. You have to experience it for yourself. You have to do your own meddling, go through the highs and lows of ecstasy and pain.
There’s another reason why I think others can’t take our useful advice when it comes to dating: brain chemistry and hormones. Anyone could tell you that love makes us stupid, from their direct personal experience. An absolute douchebag somehow becomes the love of our lives, and the douchey actions get reframed as an innocent “he didn’t mean it…”
I’m a total hypocrite, and anyone who has heard my dating advice and then watched me in a love stupor knows it. I make terrible decisions. I idolise men who are so clearly not into me it becomes some sick love-comedy-drama.
Generally, we should all abide by the golden rule: don’t give advice unless it is asked for. How many times have you willingly offered up your own opinions on a friend’s situation when actually all they wanted to do was vent? It’s a rare occasion when other people want our advice. But when they do, they will clearly ask you for it. Just because they are telling you about the woes and dramas of their situation doesn’t mean they want your unsolicited advice on what to do.
This golden rule can be really hard to follow. My own tendency toward honesty means I tend to blurt out opinions when perhaps the other person wasn’t ready to hear it. It leaves me bitter and annoyed and frankly, drains my energy. Conversely, I won’t say anything. And yet my own judgment seems to radiate out of me without my own accord. Other people can feel it. There’s nothing worse then sensing someone else’s self-righteousness and feeling of moral superiority over your own decisions. I am unfortunately, more often than not, the judgmental bitch on the other side of the conversation.
I had to smile the other day when a close friend told me of her recent breakup with her on-and-off-again boyfriend. I had to smile because I knew it for months. Everyone around her knew it. And deep down, as she confided in me, she knew it too.
As humans, we are amazing at compartmentalising the truth, at turning away from it as it grows and festers in the corner of our psyche. We always know the truth deep down, and yet we keep pretending that we don’t know, that the little nagging voice inside of us doesn’t know what it’s talking about. That everyone around us who are saying the same thing must be wrong, because they don’t know what it’s like to be in the relationship.
It’s true, we will never know. We will never see the other person in the same golden and hazy light that you do. We do not have chemical bonds or a hormonal attraction that makes us blind to the obviousness that the relationship isn’t going to work.
But I had to smile, because there is something inherently beautiful about someone working it out through their own messy process. When we let go of the need to be right, instead simply offering our presence as support whilst they answer their own questions by experiencing all the possible outcomes, we witness the core of what it means to be human. It takes the unnecessary burden off our shoulders of needing to ‘fix’ people. People don’t want to be fixed. They want to be them. They want to be accepted for their mistakes and all.
So when it comes to advice giving, don’t. Instead, hold space for them. Let them figure it out on their own. Resist the temptation to condescendingly tell them the obvious. And if you can’t, send them to someone else who can.
image: Charles Etoroma