Do We Let Our Friends Fail Because It’s Good For Them?

So here’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately: Do we let our friends/family/loved ones fail because it’s good for them?

Here’s the specific situation that prompted me to ponder this. A close pal of mine is a part-time sports coach in addition to his regular day job. Well, this past summer he decided to take on a second part-time coaching gig, which means he’s now coaching in the early morning before work and then again in the evenings immediately after work. His working day essentially lasts from 5:30 am to 8:30 pm, with literally an hour or so of free time in the evening before he has to go to bed. Between the three gigs he’s making decent money, but IMO it’s not nearly worth it. When he was thinking about taking on the second gig I advised him against it, and I continue to advise him against. I think the lack of free time is lethal, but even worse, I figured that he would shortchange at least one of the three gigs in terms of effort, creativity, and dedication. He would always be tired and cut corners. To make matters worse, one of the coaching gigs is for a club that I used to be a part of, so I have an emotional stake in the matter. I would hate to see him shortchange my old club.

Reason why this hits home is because I’ve been in this exact situation. I did two coaching gigs, morning and evening, sandwiched between graduate school classes and a part-time job. I wanted to do everything well, but the end result was that I halfassed my job and one of the coaching gigs. At about the mid-season point, I took an honest evaluation of my performance and estimated that I was only giving 75-80% of a full effort to either of the  coaching gigs and my work performance was like a C+ level. I was about an A- student. There just wasn’t enough energy and creativity to go around.

I tell my pal about all of this often but he’s fully engaged and plowing through it. I can see signs that he’s slowing down and starting to cut corners. He cancels practices and does coaching stuff while at work.

But I’m starting to think that it’s okay for him to go down the path he’s on simply for the experience. He’s young, in his mid 20’s, and I think getting overextended might be good for him. It’ll push his boundaries and give him future perspective when he’s faced with a lot of options. Maybe it will help him build up organizational skills and endurance. The best comparison I can think of is starting a business. Even though it’s probable that your first business will fail (50% of new businesses fail within 4 years ), I would never recommend not doing it. Your first business is like chasing the dream. Even in failure, the experience can be valuable. Right?

I think our relationships are like this. For the vast majority of us, our first couple of relationships will end in failure. It’s probable that our first marriage will end in failure (50%). If we’re on the ball, we learn something from each failure and it makes us a better partner. The experience is valuable. But is that relationship experience worth it for the series of burnt bridges we leave behind us?

So what do you think? Do we advise our younger colleagues for or against a course of action, even though our own experience tells us that they’ll fail? And what about our relationships…even if we know it’s likely the relationship will end in the dumps, do you go through it anyway? I think so. Otherwise we risk never taking risks and experiencing what’s out there.

  • beforewisdom

    As a friend I feel obligated to give the benefit of my experience, my advice….once. After that, they are on their own.

    Sometimes people have to have an experience for themselves even if they know it might be a problem.

  • Honey

    Well the divorce thing doesn’t really fit into that category because every divorce makes subsequent divorces significantly more likely. Not that the source that I found this from is the most credible, but I’ve heard similar statistics everywhere:

    95 percent of all divorced people eventually remarry…76 percent of second marriages fail within five years…87 per cent of third marriages fail and 93 per cent of fourth marriages end in divorce within five years.

    Once a quitter, always a quitter, it would seem, at least as far as marriage goes.

    As far as work goes, I was reading an article today about that law professor’s blog about how he and his wife make $250K per year and would be devastated if the Bush tax cuts expire because they’d have to get rid of their nanny, lawn guy, and housecleaner (?!?) and the article said that many studies have shown that people who are time affluent are significantly happier than people who are materially affluent. Which is why I moved 3 miles from my 8 to 5 job and avoid other committments whenever possible. I love sleeping until 7 and getting home at 5:30 every day, it makes all the scrimping and budgeting worth it.

  • Lance

    If the stats are so against marriage, why get married in the first place? Is marriage such an amazing experience that everyone *has* to do it at least once in their lives? Even if you don’t get married, everyone on the planet is going to get into a relationship that will fail, and probably get into multiple that fail. Is there value in failing? That was my question.

    Time is clearly our greatest commodity. Having all the cash in the world doesn’t mean squat if you don’t have the time to spend it. I telecommute several days per week now, work downtown, and the time savings is remarkable. I can go several days without driving a car and re-invest that time into other endeavors.
    .-= Lance´s last blog …Do We Let Our Friends Fail Because It’s Good For Them =-.

  • Honey

    I think that most people get married for religious reasons and to raise children (and also probably for financial reasons, since raising children is expensive). A bit ironic since I believe raising children is one of the leading causes (if not THE leading cause) of divorce. Being compatible when you are young and have only yourselves to worry about is very different from being compatible on the tens of thousands of important decisions that must be made when you are completely responsible for other human beings.

    To answer the question, is there value in failing? Yes, of course. When your first few LTRs fail, you do some soul-searching and try to figure out why. You change the expectations that you have that are unreasonable, you mature and become a more giving partner, you do a better job of screening out people that are wrong for you.

    But, there is probably only value in a finite number of failures. That is, there HAS to be a point of diminishing returns after which you must conclude that you are incapable of mastering a particular skill set. So when is that point? When do you give up? Maybe knowing that you’re incapable of something and focusing your energies on things you ARE capable of is the greatest realization you can make.

    The unfortunate thing with regards to relationships is that society places so much value on it that to be perceived as not mastering it can have significant negative consequences – for your career, for your friendships, for your family.

  • terri

    The notion that divorce is “quitting”, as in honey’s posit that..

    “Once a quitter, always a quitter, it would seem, at least as far as marriage goes.”

    …after quoting the increasing likelihood of divorce in subsequent marriages is an abuse of statistics.

    Is it possible that some relationships, particularly those formed in the couples’ twenties, will not last a lifetime? Do you expect a 24-yr-old to have the perspicacity to look down the road five decades? So when 42-yr-old Heather (oops, should I chose a different name?) decides, after 18 years of marriage and two kids, that this really just isn’t doing it for her anymore…she should stick it out?

    Ok, so she does. She suffers through another three decades of sexless, comfortless, emotionless bickering over second mortgages and whether to vacation in cabo or hawaii and why-haven’t-you-cleaned-the-garage, and, my god, how are we going to afford to send _another_ spawn to college, while her progressively silent husband, growing his beer gut and making disparaging remarks about her thighs and her mother…

    She sticks with the marriage rather than gettomg out. And so she’s not a “quitter”? She has more than quit. She’s checked out. She’s on Paxil (yay! big-pharma! Repackage that anti-convulsant as an anti-depressant and then spend millions on an ad campaign! “Do you ever feel sad?” [side effects include increased depression, loss of libido {kill me now}, weight gain, and thoughts of suicide], she hasn’t had an orgasm in years, she’s eating ice cream out of the bio-degradable packaging (because she’s told to “care”), she’s driving a prius (because ditto…she cares about everything except herself), her “husband” is asleep after a ten-minute porn session that she’s not supposed to know about but she does because the “genius” she married doesn’t know how to clear the cache…

    Just as long as she doesn’t “quit” and get a divorce. That would be a failure.

    “Quitting” would add to the 50% (and rising) statistic–we can’t have that.

    Or…she gets out. Meets some guy who makes her feel young, makes her feel attractive, actually _listens_ to her. Touches her in a way that her husband never could (not to rag on the husband–“Heather” hasn’t learned any new tricks during the marriage, either).

    Second marriage. Imprudent, too quick, but, my god, the passion and the fire. It’ll burn out quick, but…you’re going to deny Heather her pleasure? The second marriage doesn’t last, the divorce is amicable, there are no children, they’ll remain occasional, annual friends. Some regret, some wish-it-could-have-been, but…they were both rebounding. They helped each other. Maybe shouldn’t have married, but whatever…sex was amazing…

    Now she’s 48 and on fire. Two marriages behind her. She’s gone to the gym. She looks great. She’s dating. She’s interested in things that don’t _just_ involve her children. She’s starting to want something for herself. She’s trying to push past the guilt that she destroyed her kids’ lives by divorcing their father…and her kids are _fine_. They have their own problems. They talk to her about their breakups, their frustrations…and she realizes that they would _never_ have done that if she’d stayed married to their father.

    She’s back on her feet. Nearing 50, but, oh my god, she has 32-yr-old men chasing her. She’s dating. She knows, _finally_, that she can call the shots. She doesn’t _need_ a man to provide or to assuage. It’s her life, and she sees that (again, oh my god) there’s not as much time left as she would like.

    Youth isn’t wasted on the young, pace GBS (smart, but a bit of a dolt). Time is.

    She meets another man. A real man, this time. He’s been through hell, so has she. _No one_ gets to that age without going through hell. He’s funny and glib and precise and sweet (although not in a stupid way). But she’s not physically attracted. She’s not bowled over when she meets him. She doesn’t think he could ever make her ache…but..But now she’s starting to wonder whether that nether-region throb, that heart-thumping lust…that (as we’re told) “chemistry” at the first meet, so indispensable, so determinative…

    A dilemma. We all want the pyramus and thisbe, romeo and juliette, tristan and isolde experience.

    Do we really?

  • Honey

    @terri, I agree with you that’s how it often plays out in people’s lives…IF they get married before they’re 30, IF they get married before dating their partner for at least 5 years, IF they have children.

    None of which I am going to do, and none of which I think is advisable for anyone to do :-)

  • Honey

    I would also clarify that the relationship ending isn’t what makes it a failure. People outgrow each other all the time. We call them boyfriends, girlfriends, fuck buddies, significant others, romantic partners. Those terms imply the temporary, the “this is the right person for me at this stage in my life, I am not sure if it will always be this way.”

    It’s the marriage ending that makes it a failure. Because marriage functions as a promise, “I am secure enough in who I am as a person, and confident enough in my analysis of this other, to declare to the world that we will always be together. I promise to do everything in my power, every day, for the rest of my life, to ensure this is the case.”

    If you make that promise and it turns out not to be true, then you’ve failed to keep that promise. Even if it’s because the other person changed, then you are the one whose analysis of the other was off. If you’re very young, you’re obviously incapable of knowing enough to make that promise, and I think that ESPECIALLY if you are going to raise children, you probably aren’t in a position to make that decision prior to having them.

  • terri

    “If you’re very young, you’re obviously incapable of knowing enough to make that promise, and I think that ESPECIALLY if you are going to raise children, you probably aren’t in a position to make that decision prior to having them.”

    So people shouldn’t have children until they’re, what, 35? 40? 50? I hear what you’re saying, but, jesus, that’s completely impracticable advice. There are any number of cultures, many of them since wiped out by western civ (the arawak is always the prime example) in which couples unite for as long as the union lasts and then part without acrimony, without jealousy. If there are children, hell–you think they want to be “unborn” just because their progenitores are no longer fucking each other? Kids don’t want to think about their parents having sex.

    The trouble I have with some of things that are said here, many of them by lance, is the black/white opposition, and you’re falling into it, honey. Marriage is a “promise” and when the marriage ends in divorce it’s a “failure”. That really is a bit extreme. It’s downright fundamentalist christian. Then you preface it by saying that other relationships that, in my mind, are just as significant aren’t failures just because they’ve ended.

    You believe in the sanctimony of marriage, but not in the sanctimony of relationships?

    Sure, not all relationships last a lifetime. Should they? Should you still be adhered to the first boy you held hands with? The first boy you kissed? The first boy you let remove your bra?

    But let’s look again at this:

    “if you are going to raise children, you probably aren’t in a position to make that decision prior to having them.”

    So…you have to have children _before_ you make the decision to have them?

    I _sort of_ understand what you’re trying to say. Don’t have kids until you _know_ that the relationship is permanent. Honey, the whole point is that people who are within _sensible_ child bearing age _can not know_ that it’s going to be permanent. I had my children in my twenties. They went through a mini-hell during my divorce, but…what caused that? Because my marriage was a “failure”? Or because the normative, if obsolete, pressure is that parents stay together forever? What if there were _no_ stigma to divorce, neither for the couple nor for the kids? What if people lived in open communities rather than fenced-in houses? i’m not talking communes, I’m talking about a sensible, sustainable, friendly lifestyle.

    I think you’re trying to justify your own fear. For you (I’m guessing) marriage means you have to cut off communication with the outside world, that you have to be yoked, melted, and cleave unto your spouse.

    Nice dream. Sounds like a nightmare to me.

  • Honey

    I’m not saying not to have kids unless you know the union is permanent. I’m wondering why society practically forces marriage to be a prerequisite to having children when the effect of that prerequisite has been overwhelmingly and demonstrably negative for both parents and children for centuries. I also don’t think it’s a referendum on anyone’s character to break that promise – I don’t have to, since the lived effects are their own referendum. Which is why I wonder why so many people rush into that promise without *really* thinking about it.

    I am sure I will be wrong in all sorts of ways that I don’t anticipate, but since Jake and I will have been together for 6 years before we get married and because we are not going to have children, it’s not going to change the nature of our relationship. It’s just going to be a celebration of our certainty.

  • Honey

    I am DEFINITELY not saying that people should not have children until you know that the relationship is permanent. I’m saying that people should acknowledge that having children is almost certain to destroy their romantic relationship, so they shouldn’t make it permanent prior to having them.

  • terri

    Honey, I agree, marriage needn’t be a prerequisite for spawning. The how’s and why’s of societal pressure for marriage-then-kids…we could leave that to the social anthropologists.

    But…why does everyone accept the marriage premise? I got into an argument with a colleague a few years ago in the early days of the internet. He was crowing that the (then) potential of free accessibility of amateur music/books/videos/etc would unleash a tide of choice for the _consumer_, and that would be a good thing, that the intermediation of record & publishing companies, of movie studios would become obsolete. I objected. _No one_ wants to put in the position of having to make a decision about _everything_ they do. People _want_ to be led. Not everyone about everything, of course, but most of us about most things. We _want_ to be told that it’s ok to wear jeans so we don’t have to think about it. We _want_ to be told that the movie down at the cineplex is the thing to see so we don’t have to decide for ourselves (a choice among 20 movies is enough).

    Same thing goes for how we live our lives, although the clinch is a bit tighter. People get married because they’re _told_ they should get married. And now they divorce because, at a 50% rate, it’s _ok_. It’s acceptable, it’s the norm. Kids don’t cause divorce. Divorce makes divorce acceptable. Divorce causes divorce.

    And this:

    “having children is almost certain to destroy their romantic relationship, so they shouldn’t make it permanent prior to having them.”

    There are three objections:

    1. No, having children doesn’t destroy a healthy romantic relationship. And even if it does…you have to look at the bigger picture. Children are amazing (mine are, anyway). They’re amusing, they’re inquisitive, they’re charming beyond belief, they’re a reflection of _you_, and when one of my kids says something that I _know_ he or she couldn’t have said unless _I_ had raised them…sheer, pure, inexplicable joy. I know it, they know. You don’t have kids, yet. You have _no idea_ (yet) how much fun it is. Is it rough, is it difficult, does it shut down your life? Eh…not really. Don’t believe the Me-lifestyle hype.

    I was married for nearly 20 years. My kids did _not_ break up my marriage. Sure, this is anecdotal, but I think it’s statistically consistent. Honey, if you want to have kids, and if Jake is willing, what’s stopping you? Yes, there are asshole parents who consider their kids to be impediments, but they are, uhm, assholes.

    2. Need the union be permanent before having children? Why are you dipping your cup into the fundamentalist christian kool-aid? People are _biologically_ ready to have kids at a very early age. Are they emotionally ready? Most of them, hell no. Some of them never will be. But “waiting” is, in my view, a recipe for disaster. Don’t “plan” your kids, just have them. And i don’t mean push out another welfare check (which, believe me, is the MO of some of the crack-whore mothers that I work with).

    3. This should be number one, but I got distracted. Why do you assume that the introduction of child is “certain” to “destroy” a romantic relationship? Because you can’t fuck as freely and spontaneously as before? Of course you can. Because your vagina will be all loose and extended? No, that’s a myth. Because…what? Let’s look at it from the other side. You just created this creature _together_. He/she demands a lot of attention (although, really, not nearly as much as you’d think). What else do you two do together that can give you _anything_ that approaches the joy and unity of watching your newborn asleep in his/her cot? Well, sure, bowling will do it. Hella fun.

  • terri

    “that prerequisite has been overwhelmingly and demonstrably negative for both parents and children for centuries.”

    Really? Prove it. If it’s “demonstrably negative”, then let’s have your proof.

  • Anne Randolf

    Terri-You are dead center on this topic. AMEN to your story about Heather or whatever name you chose…..
    What you posted is what millions of women are facing. Societies pressure to stay married and avoid the horrible stigma of being a divorcee. That is total Bullshit! Staying with someone who shuts you down and drives you into an emotional and physical rut essentially hinders you from parenting to your fullest. Staying could do more harm to the future of your children. Leaving and creating a better situation for your children is far better.

    First and foremost, children’s mental health and quality of life should be everyone’s number 1 priority. So WHO is going to tell me that Sticking it out so the children have two disconnected, shut down, distant parents under one roof???? Bullshit. Someone needs to post the studies.

  • Honey


    Neither Jake nor I have even the slightest desire to have children. Everything about it sounds HORRIBLE to us.

  • Honey
  • Honey

    BTW, I am highly amused by all the accusations of adhering to Christian dogma, since I have been an atheist for a decade or so, now 😉

  • Honey

    And as far as “proof,” I’m certainly not going to insult anyone by listing information that is so easily found out via friends, family, or google 😉

  • terri

    Then make it up. I do.

  • Honey

    Nah 😉