(The Root) —
"I'm torn, lost and confused. I was with my best friend-cousin recently, and she began arguing with her boyfriend, who I was just meeting. He was punking her, so I stood up for her. He replied with information that I have only shared with my cousin. I was at a loss for words, appalled, felt violated and humiliated. I just left without saying anything — I was too heated. I feel like this is grounds to terminate our friendship because I can no longer trust her. Am I wrong? And should I have a conversation with her?" —Y.P.
I'm sorry to hear that you feel violated by what you consider to be a breach of trust in your friendship. It's not an uncommon feeling when you discover that someone has shared information that you intended to be private.
However, you're going to have to take some of the blame for your business being in the street. As much as we all like to think there are people we can trust with our secrets, everyone talks to someone. And it's more common than not for people in relationships to engage in pillow talk about whatever's going on in their life and others' lives, too, with their significant others or spouses. To pretend otherwise is to be willfully naive.
You may not like that it happens. You might think it's inappropriate. But no matter how you feel about it, it's what is often done, and it's not likely to stop. Your friend's partner knowing your business comes with the territory of you telling it.
Anytime you spill tea, you run the risk of other people knowing what you're up to. I assure you that anything you've told a friend before, her partner probably knew about it, too. He just wasn't bold enough to share that information with you and violate the unspoken trust and vow of silence in his relationship. But he knew.
If you want to keep your personal life private, the only way to assure that is for you not to spill your tea to begin with. Keep your business to yourself — or enlist the confidence of a professional coach or therapist who is bound to secrecy (on most matters) by law. That way you won't have to worry about people talking about your business behind your back or, perhaps worse, throwing it in your face unexpectedly.
As for your friend, it's not really much of a friendship if your knee-jerk reaction to being angry is just to do away with it altogether. Hopefully, that's the heat of anger talking, and you've calmed down since then.
Walking out wasn't the ideal way to handle that situation (more on intervening in their argument later), but if you were going to say or do something that would escalate this situation, it's best that you did walk away. If you're in a calmer place now, then you should definitely reach out to your friend face-to-face and let her know how you felt when you discovered that she shared your secrets. Ask her how she would feel if you told others the private things she's shared with you.
There is one final thing I need to address with you — not that you asked. In your letter, you talk about standing up for your cousin and addressing her boyfriend. That's not your place, and furthermore, your intervention is not welcome and does not matter.
What goes on in your friend's relationship is between her and her man. It's always messy when couples get to bickering in public, and it may seem that they are inviting commentary by carrying on with each other in the open, but really they are not. That's their situation, and despite the out-in-the-open conversation, that's their business, too.
If your cousin is OK with being "punked," as you put it, that is, again, between her and her partner. And your intervening won't do anything to change the dynamic of the relationship. If she doesn't stand up for herself, you — a person not in the relationship — will have no effect on how she is treated by her boyfriend.
You were really bothered by what you witnessed, enough that you wanted to jump in, but next time, walk away, and tell her to text you when they're done fussing so you can come back and enjoy whatever outing you're on. Whatever you do, do not jump into an argument between a couple, and definitely don't address the person you don't know and who doesn't know you. Not only is it out of line, but he also doesn't owe you anything — and your friend's boyfriend made that clear by going for the lowest verbal blow he could think of.
If you must intervene, do so later with your friend only in a one-on-one conversation. Express your concern about how her boyfriend treats her. What she does from there is on her. You can't make her stand up to him or leave him. And whether or not you like the situation, she's an adult who can choose whether to speak up for herself, and whether to continue the relationship with someone you perceive to be punking her.
I hope that you and your best friend-cousin can mend your friendship. Mended or not, though, learn the lesson from this experience: Be quiet.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.