Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Friend's reaction to unwelcome news shows immaturity
New York, New York: I had to tell a good friend her boyfriend was cheating on her. I didn't want to do it, and here's why: As soon as I told her, she got really angry at me and started saying horrible things about how I was jealous and spiteful and a gossip. She stayed with the boyfriend and has seriously alienated me.
I am pretty sure her relationship won't outlast our friendship, so I don't want to turn my back on her because of this. However, she has really hurt my feelings with her personal attacks, some of which hit really close to home. What's the best way to preserve this friendship? Do I need to step away for a while?
Carolyn: Please do step away, because her lashing out at you is a hallmark of serious immaturity.
Let's say she stumbles across, on her own, the same truth you told her. In that case, she may well come crawling back to you with apologies for not believing you. If and when that happens, I hope you will have thought carefully about whether her friendship is worth the abuse she dishes out whenever life doesn't match up perfectly with her expectations.
An exception — possibly the only one — would be if her discovery humbles her, and forces her to look inward. You'll hear it in her apology: not just "Oops, sorry, you were right after all," but "My response to you was immature and unfair and I've learned from it." If you don't see a sign of that kind of introspection, then don't expect her to be growing up any time soon.
Cold feet not something to just put socks on and forget about
Washington, D.C.: How can you tell the difference between cold feet and real reservations about something?
Carolyn: "Cold feet" are real reservations. Treat them as such by figuring out exactly what's bothering you, even if you have to revisit every step of your decision-making process.
If nothing about your decision seems like a big problem, then go back over it and look for anything you might have dismissed as just a small problem. If anything fits that description, then ask yourself if this current nonproblem will become a problem over time. I use the backpack-on-a-hike analogy: A weight that feels fine the first mile can be unbearable by mile 15.
If you don't turn up anything that you'd consider a problem, big or small, then ask yourself what vague bad feelings usually mean to you. Look to your past: You know whether it's normal for you to have nerves, or whether nerves are an anomaly that should be obeyed. You probably even have some kind of precedent — either a bad outcome from ignoring these nerves, or a bad outcome from letting them hold you back, or a good outcome from having the courage to push past your nerves, or a good outcome from trusting the nerves and not going forward.
Put all of this together, then step back and breathe. How does everything apply to the way you feel now? This kind of reasoning can take you only so far — every decision has at least a small leap-of-faith component — but careful, fact-based thinking can help you reduce the leap and gain confidence in your decisions.