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My friend is making terrible choices: how can I help?

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Marie asks:

My best friend thinks its safe to have unprotected sex. She's sixteen (and has been for six months) and her boyfriend is fourteen (and will be for another three months). He thinks she's on the pill, so he doesn't ask her that they use a condom. Even though both of them were virgins, she was his first girlfriend while she had been "messing around" with guys as old as thirty four when she was as young as twelve. Her boyfriend is best friends with my boyfriend, and she is my best friend. Neither my beloved or I want to see this happen, but she acts like it's no big deal, and he yells every time we try to ask about it. She tells me I don't know what I'm talking about, since I'm a virgin and so is my boy -- and we intend to stay that way until we're in a truly committed relationship -- and says to just quit bothering her about it. If I didn't know for a fact that my best friend WANTED to have her boyfriends baby -- and soon -- I wouldn't stress nearly as much as I am currently. I don't know what to do, and was wondering if you could give me any advice... anything is helpful, I know she isn't ready for a kid and wish I could find a tactful way to convince her that there is no safe kind of unprotected sex. I've already showed her Scarleteen, and she brushed it off... so I'm out of ideas. Thanks much!

Heather Corinna replies:

If you've already spoken to her about your concerns and directed her to some resources for more information, there's really not a lot more you can do when it comes to your friend. I would, however, suggest that you check into the age of consent in your state, since very few states have an age of consent as low as fourteen, and in some, if she is over that age and her partner is under it, the sex she's having could be a criminal offense on her part. Should his parents, for instance, report her, that could be a pretty huge deal, all the more so if she transmits an STI to her partner or her intentional deception causes him to be a parent and thus, have a legal obligation to support a child. In either of those cases, she could be seen by the law as doubly endangering him.

But after that, I'm afraid you are going to have to drop it. She's asked you to, and clearly, she's not hearing you, so going on is futile. You can, if you like, assure her that you'll be supportive of her no matter what, but it's also okay, if you feel differently, to make clear that there are some things you just can't be supportive about. Just because you're her friend doesn't mean you have to be okay with everything she does or help her clean up a mess later you tried to help her keep from making.

Your boyfriend might, though, want to consider talking to her boyfriend, since they are friends.

Obviously, this is a personal judgment call, but being deceived into being a Daddy is a very serious thing, especially since it will usually result in that person being obligated to provide financial support for a child for the whole of that child's life. That's tough enough at 25, but at 14 that's a hell of a thing. If she hasn't been honest with him about her sexual history or STI status (and she likely hasn't been tested from the sounds of things, but if she's engaged in other sexual activity before, she's had risks: vaginal intercourse isn't the only activity that carries those risks), he may also be taking risks based on what she has told him that he wouldn't want to be otherwise, risks which could endanger his health and even potentially his life (in the case that she's HIV-positive, for instance). If I was friends with someone in that spot -- even if I was also friends with their partner -- I think I would be saying something about the truth of the situation. I'd likely also voice my concerns that a relationship with someone that deceptive and careless is probably not healthy full-stop. While your friend may be a fine person otherwise, and while the way she's behaving may well be about her own issues, this behavior can seriously impact others, and blowing that off makes her pretty darn toxic when it comes to being a sexual partner. She may be blowing off those risks because she's depressed or working something out that's making her unable to see or really care about the other person or people involved, or she may knowingly or purposefully be choosing to create risks and strife for others as well as herself. I'd also be concerned that her choice of a younger partner could be based in the ability to more easily coerce or influence that person: your average guy at 14 is not usually very well-versed when it comes to understanding risks of STIs and pregnancy, nor all that wordly when it comes to being aware that girls, like boys, can and do sometimes lie and sexually manipulate, and can also be abusive.

Your boyfriend might also offer to go with him to get a round of STI testing, so that he has some company and support in that. the first time you go to get tested can be pretty nerve-wracking, so having a friend with you can make it a lot easier.

Mind, her partner is obviously also making choices to go without condoms and testing. Unless she is verbally or physically stopping him (via force or coercion) from putting a condom on, he's making choices, too. They may be uninformed choices -- in which case you or your boyfriend can help by getting him some sound information on birth control and safer sex -- but they still are his choices. Again, not knowing what the age of consent is where you are, in the eyes of the law he may not actually be in the legal position to give consent and own those choices, but they still are his, and he still can make different ones. If he has all the real information in hand -- and knows what's really going on -- he may well do just that, either by removing himself from this relationship or by being sure that even if she's not going to take care of herself, he does what he can to do so for himself by using condoms and getting tested regularly. Or, even with the information, he may still take the same risks he's taking now.

If one of you does have that conversation with him, I'd also suggest being honest with her and disclosing that you did have that conversation. I know that won't be easy, and she's likely to get angry, but I'd still be candid with her about it.

But if one of you talks to him as well, and they both still behave exactly as they are now, then you're just going to have to let it go. I understand that it's really hard to watch people you care about put themselves in positions of risk where the consequences are far more likely to be negative than positive, but it's something that will likely happen more than once in your life with a friend. With young people, in particular, taking risks of all kinds is a very normal part of personal development. Obviously, we can choose to take risks which are more likely to result in positives than negatives, but everyone is different, everyone comes from different places, and sometimes people just feel compelled to make poor choices, even when they know -- as she probably does given how defensive and angry she's being with you -- they're poor ones.

We can do our best to be supportive, but our friends will still make their own choices and need to still make their own choices. Like I said before, if there is a negative consequence -- for either of them -- both you and your boyfriend are certainly not obligated to help manage that or clean it up: that's up to you, and it's not a requirement that you do to be a good friend. Sometimes, there simply comes a point where we have to set boundaries with friendships, and with friends who are hell-bent on making messes for themselves and others, it often isn't all that helpful to enable them in that regard. Part of figuring out why certain choices aren't so great usually involves doing the work to really deal with the consequences.

Don't forget, too, that your friend and her boyfriend aren't your sole responsibility: they both have parents, other family, other friends, other community who should be pitching in here. I'd just make sure that when it comes to the both of you, you're also taking care of yourselves in terms of having some level of non-attachment to this, and some limits and boundaries with this whole drama. Your mental and emotional health matters, too, and while I think it's fantastic you both are trying so hard to be good friends to her, there just comes a point where you've got to step back, let go, and accept that the only people who own this are she and he and you've done all you can to get them there. I'd also be sure this person is even a good choice of a friend for you. Someone who yells at you when you're expressing a valid concern, coming out of care for them, and who doesn't seem to care very much about how she might hurt others may not be a healthy relationship for you, just like it probably isn't for her boyfriend.

Here are a few links for you and your boyfriend to look at which may help in any last talks you have about all of this. Go ahead and read up, then decide what your last effort is going to be, and do yourselves a favor after that and just step away some. After all, you being able to have a healthy relationship you enjoy also matters, and you can't get too sucked into someone else's relationships if you're going to enjoy and nurture that.

written 26 Apr 2008 . updated 26 Apr 2008

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