‘My friend wants matching tattoos…I don’t’ – Millennial Agony Aunt 42

My best friend wants matching tattoos to symbolise ‘a new chapter’. How do I explain that I love her, but I don't want the tattoo?

matching tattoos woman-with-an-arm-tattoo lucian freud

Emily Watkins is a professional Millennial (read: precariously employed twenty-something). Each week, she will answer a generation-specific query from the depths of her on-brand existential crisis. This week, our Aunt-in-Residence looks at matching tattoos, and where to draw the line with a fragile friend.

Please send any quandaries, issues, troubles or thoughts to aunt@whynow.co.uk for a good dose of aunt-ing.

My best friend has just gone through a break up and has needed lots of support. I adore her so that was totally fine until a couple of weeks ago when she got a spontaneous tattoo to symbolise ‘a new chapter’ and she wants me to get a matching one. I tried to laugh it off but she won’t let it go; I don’t want to upset her, but I also really don’t want the tattoo! How do I explain that I love her, but her break up isn’t mine?

What are you talking about?! Of course you have to get the tattoo, you wuss. Don’t you love your friend at all?

Just kidding. I can see that this has gone a bit wonky, but you can rest assured that the muddle is hers rather than yours. It’s perfectly normal to mark an era – especially its end – with a symbol of some kind, either to celebrate an emotional milestone or push ourselves towards one; tattoos and piercings are classics for a reason, but sometimes a spring clean or just a dramatic haircut can scratch the same itch. 

So it is with your friend; she’s right in the middle of grieving her relationship, by no means over the worst, but doing everything she can to keep her head above water. This visual representation of her ‘new chapter’ is arbitrary, sure, but that’s part of the appeal – life’s hardest blows tend to take us by surprise, but the deliberate nature of a reactionary tattoo goes some way to counterbalancing the shock of a blindsiding break. 

Reginald Marsh, Tattoo and Haircut, 1932

Reginald Marsh, Tattoo and Haircut, 1932

So far, so fair – we’re approaching the site of the crossed wires. Her tattoo stands for recovery, but the fact that she’s clinging so hard to the signifier rather than the signified shows it’s a destination in front of her instead of the rearview mirror. That she wants a travel companion in you speaks volumes, too, about the processing being something she’s working towards rather than already accomplished. Alone, me? No way, look at our matching tattoos! 

Such off-kilter reasoning is to be expected in the wake of an upheaval, but that doesn’t mean you have to go along with it; in fact, bystanders arguably have a duty to divert loved ones back to a more even keel. As such, you’re right to stand your ground even if it feels unkind – apart from the fact that you, um, don’t want her tattoo on your body forever, appeasing her in the short term won’t provide the comfort she seems to think it will. It hurts to hurt, and it’s lonely to be alone, but no matching tattoo is cute enough to solve that; all you can do is love your friend while she pulls herself back together. 

Somewhere along the line she has mistaken this grand gesture for proof of your support, when in actuality they have very little to do with each other – and as for how to break that to her, I promise she’ll barely notice if she’s feeling properly propped up. I hope it goes without saying that’s not your sole responsibility; that you’ve been able to share the emotional load of looking after your friend while keeping an eye on yourself too. 

And in that spirit – seeing as skirting the subject doesn’t seem to have made her drop it – you might have to come out with it next time she brings up tattoo-gate, if only so you can move on to the much more important business of being her friend rather than her body double. Here’s your line – ready? Say it with me: “Baby, I love you, but I’m not getting your tattoo. How about a glass of wine instead?”

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