So you have a... problem. Maybe you just wrapped dad's car around a tree, maybe you've been snorting coke, maybe you just opened a dimensional rift that endangers the future of humanity, whatever, but nobody knows about it. Still, you can't resist the urge to find out what would happen to someone who, say, for instance, hypothetically, did something really really really bad. Sometimes your mom/dad/friend/boss/superior officer will catch on right away, sometimes they're going to unwittingly scare you out of telling them what happened until the situation is much, much worse. Either way, hilarity is likely to ensue.
That is, unless it's a Trial Balloon Question, in which case there's more likely to be broken hearts and blood.
In an interesting twist, when you do in fact have a hypothetical situation, or you actually are asking for advice for a friend, 9 times out of 10, whoever you're asking will assume that you're using this trope. Another twist is to slip into first person before you're done describing the situation. Played for laughs, a character will describe the situation in third person and then ask for advice in first person. Played for drama, it may be made obvious that both sides are fully aware of the true nature of the situation but only feel comfortable speaking about it in third person.
See Comic Role Play for a similar trope. See also ...And That Little Girl Was Me, for a similar deception regarding someone's backstory. The Confidant can usually be told the non-hypothetical version without freaking out.
And yes, this trope is definitelyTruth in Television. It is probably more common in real life than it will ever be in fiction. If you haven't pulled this trick yourself, you'll most certainly have met someone who did. To experience it instantly, go to a forum with a userbase primarily consisting of teenagers, open some threads about problems of a sexual nature, and it will not take you many minutes to find Real Life examples.
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Commercials for medications that treat embarrassing health issues, such as incontinence or erectile dysfunction, often show the patients using this trope on their doctors, or at least thinking about it before they come clean about their "problem".
Anime and Manga
Midori no Hibi has the Class Representative Ayase confess to Seiji this way. After detailing all the ridiculous efforts 'her friend' made to catch 'some guys' attention, Seiji casually remarks that the guy must be an idiot not to notice any of them. She makes it a little more painfully obvious, and then drops the routine entirely at the end.
Both Hitomi and Millerna engage in this conversations with each other that describe their feelings and concerns about Allen. It takes both of them an astonishingly long time to realize just whom they are both, in fact, talking about. Millerna, to her credit, catches that Hitomi's basically repeating her earlier discussion, although it takes her a while to catch why that's important. Which the ditzy Catgirl Merle calls them both on.
Vision of Escaflowne Abridged spoofs this with them both knowing what the other is talking about right away, and then playing with this in other forms.
In Genshiken, Saki tells a story about a "friend" of hers whose otaku boyfriend might have been watching anime during sex.
In InuYasha, the title character isn't even willing to use the "I have this friend" method - Shippou ends up doing it for him, asking Kaede for relationship advice for "a dog I know," while Inuyasha, present for the whole conversation, denies that it has anything to do with him. Hilarity Ensues, particularly given that Shippou provides visual aids. Visual aids he's so proud of that he later shows to the whole village, much to Kagome's embarrassment.
Naru from Love Hina tells the rest of the girls about a "friend" who has a chance to do their dream job and wants to know what she should do. All the girls obviously know who she's referring to and tell her to try to keep Keitaro from working at an excavation site.
Variation: Inori tries to get Akane's opinion on the relationship between his sister Seri and Ikutidaru the Oni by referring to a hypothetical situation without names or details; predictably, Akane's answer doesn't turn out to be something he hoped for (and she figures out right away that Inori is talking about a particular person).
Inverted to hilarious effect in one of the OAV episodes for the series. Inori believes Eisen to have stolen his good luck charm toy made by his late mother. His attempts to assure Eisen that he is okay with this initially take the form of a general statement so as to not address the quirky issue directly: well, people from powerful rich families may sometimes feel... lonely... so it's all right, Inori doesn't mind. Naturally, Eisen didn't take the toy and therefore fails completely to understand what Inori was talking about.
Hinagiku does this while watching Maria in Hayate the Combat Butler. Not entirely sure if Maria caught on (Maria can be unbelievably dense sometimes), but her response is dead on.
Often used by Akko in Girl Friends when she tries to discuss her love woes with her friends, without giving away they are about her and another girl, Mari. The last time she used this is especially hilarious since she placed herself in the boyfriend of the friend role, leading to this exchange:
Taguchi: Ah... her boyfriend is a cheater and he wants to cheat on her so he won't tell her which university he's going to, right? Akko:(glaring) THAT IS NOT IT. THAT IS DEFINITELY NOT IT!!
In School Rumble, while asking her friends advice on how to tell someone she loves him, she tells them it's for a "friend of a friend".
Ano Natsu De Matteru: uses a neat double variant as the camera cuts back and forth between Kaito and Ichika discussing (with Tetsuro and Remon, respectively) the budding romantic feelings between "A" and "B" during the same lunch period. Bonus points because both Tetsuro and Remon realize that Kanna is "C" independently.
Robin: Could I ask you for some non-professional advice? Oracle: Talk to Doctor Babs, Robin. Robin: I have this friend... Oracle: Hold on. This friend isn't you, is it? Robin: My friend is pregnant. Oracle: Oh.
In Death The High Cost Of Living, the protagonist Sexton meets a girl in a nightclub who tells him the story of a friend who was sexually abused and tried to kill herself by slashing her wrists. It's implied that she's talking about herself (she's wearing Opera Gloves), but Sexton doesn't seem to notice either way.
Julie's stories about "Megan" in the later part of The Maxx may or may not be this. On the one hand, Megan does look like Julie & they both spent some time living with their grandparents. On the other, Megan is a lesbian while Julie slept with scads of men.
In one Green Lantern/Green Arrow story, Speedy responds to Green Lantern wondering why anyone would use drugs by giving the hypothetical example of a young man whose father figure neglects him to go "[chasing] around the country." Which the heroes have, of course, been doing. Green Arrow is contemptuous of this hypothetical "sob story"... and then walks in on Speedy, his own surrogate son, shooting up.
Green Arrow: Oh, dear God! You are on drugs! You're really a junkie?
Speedy: Who else did you think I was talking about?
In Young Justice, Secret lays out the situation involving a (male) friend whose mother is about to be executed for murder to all her friends to get their opinions on whether it would be wrong to break her out of jail. Robin understands right away that she's talking about her own father, and so does (surprisingly) Slobo.
In The Intimates, Punchy suspects that one of his classmates is suicidal, but isn't positive just who it is. So when he tries to tell a guidance counselor about it, he vaguely alludes to someone who is "not me, okay?" The counselor naturally assumes Punchy is talking about himself.
In one Buffy the Vampire SlayerFan Fic, a relatively nice vampire decides to perform a spell to make people like her friend more. When she asks Giles for help at the Magic Box, he assumes that his customer is invoking this trope and feels very sorry for her.
In Hunting The Unicorn, this is Played for Drama in "The Butterfly" (chapter thirteen). David goes to a counselor, claiming that a friend of his might be in trouble. He literally does have a friend in trouble. It's Blaine, who has no idea that he has a stalker.
In Summer Days And Evening Flames, Gilda (a griffin) is confused about her relationship with Captain Iron Bulwark (a pony), so writes to her friend Rainbow Dash for advice. Rainbow is just as inexperienced in romance as her, so goes to Applejack, using the classic device to explain Gilda's situation. It's vauge enough that Applejack assumes she is asking her about their relationship. Hilarity Ensues.
L: Light-kun, it's already obvious that you're Kira.
Light: No, I'm not Kira... And you look like a meth addict so no one will ever believe you.
In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic The Ballad of Twilight Sparkle, Twilight tries this on a librarian at the Manehatten Public Library when asking for advice on romance regarding the Great and Powerful Trixie, or as Twilight puts it "this annoying and adamantly arrogant magical mare that somepony I know may or may not have more-than-friendly feelings for." The librarian sees right through this, much to Twilight's frustration.
Inverted in This Nearly Was Mine, when Frederic admits to Octavia that he's in love with a friend, and describes her as a beautiful, talented mare that he lost to somepony else because he was too afraid to speak up. In this case, Octavia is the friend (and she's currently dating Vinyl Scratch), but she never realizes this.
Used to some extent in Spider-Man 2 to his doctor. Who is most certainly not a psychiatrist, or for that matter a psychologist. What's worse, Peter started out talking about his actual experiences as, "I've had these dreams where I'm Spider-Man". And then says that it was actually his friend's dream. The doctor clearly catches on that the "friend" is really Peter (though he doesn't say anything), but mistakes the reason for why he's doing the routine. Peter is trying to hide the fact that he is Spider-Man; the doctor thinks he's embarrassed about the dreams.
Parodied in Analyze This, where Paul Vitti attempts to use this to describe his problem to Dr. Ben Sobel, who immediately sees through this. When he calls Paul out, Paul is impressed thinking that it showed that he was a skilled psychologist, and not that he was paper transparent.
Doug: Listen, doctor, this...friend of mine's been experimenting a little with steroids. He's been having a lot of wet dreams. Could there be a connection between them? Dr. Keats: Douglas, get off the juice. As for the nocturnal emissions, why don't you take a swim, buy a shirt with no holes, find a wahine and take her to dinner? Doug: I'll tell my friend you said so.
Father Tim: Are you Catholic? Howard: I have a friend who is...but he's very busy.
"Little Miss" Amanda tells Andrew this in Bicentennial Man, when she reveals that while she's been proposed to by a wealthy man, she would like to marry her friend, hiding that the friend is Andrew himself. While Andrew casually suggests she marry "her friend", the fact that she framed her question like this leaves out her main misgiving: that the reason she's hesitant is because he's a robot.
Heartwrenchingly executed in Sleeping With The Enemy after Laura leaves her husband. An older lady strikes up a conversation on the bus; Laura says she was visiting a friend who needed help escaping from abusive husband to explain her trip. After telling the older woman how her "friend" couldn't get the cops to help and finally risked everything to get away, the old woman whispers "How long did you stay with him?" which Laura knows exactly, to the day.
Bruce Wayne: Oh, you don't seem very happy to see me.
Selina Kyle:[annoyed] You were supposed to be a shut-in.
Bruce Wayne: I felt like some fresh air.
Selina Kyle: Why didn't you call the police?
Bruce Wayne: I have a powerful friend who deals with things like this.
And later, when Bruce, as Batman, rescues Selina from Bane's men after the rooftop fight:
Batman: Those weren't street thugs, they were trained killers. I saved your life. In return, I need to know what you did with Bruce Wayne's fingerprints.
Selina Kyle: Wayne wasn't kidding about a "powerful friend".
When Bruce tells Selina he needs to locate Bane's underground lair, he uses the "powerful friend" line again:
Selina Kyle: The rich don't even go broke same as the rest of us, huh? Bruce Wayne: My powerful friend might hope to change your mind about leaving. Selina Kyle: And how would he do that? Bruce Wayne: By giving you what you want [the Clean Slate]. Selina Kyle: It doesn't exist. Bruce Wayne: He says it does. He wants to meet, tonight. Selina Kyle: Why? Bruce Wayne: He needs to find Bane. He says you'd know how. Selina Kyle: Tell him I'll think about it.
It works up until when Selina betrays Bruce to Bane in exchange for Bane sparing her.
Fatal Attraction: Fed up with Alex's crazed behavior, Dan finally goes to the police. . .on behalf of a "client" who wants an ex to stop harassing him. It's pretty obvious the cops don't believe him.
In Harry and the Hendersons, George Henderson tries this when he needs some outsider advice on whether he should continue harbouring Harry (a bigfoot). He mentions "his friend, Jack", and the other guy asks him if the story will involve a beanstalk.
Austenland: While Jane and Nobley watch two other characters kiss in the distance, Jane and he discuss whether the other two are having a short-term fling or starting something more lasting; of course, they are really talking about themselves. Jane reuses one of the exact phrases from this dialogue later in the movie, applied to herself of course.
Main character Vlad Taltos tells a person in need of "problem-solving", that he is no longer in the business but that he has a "friend" who might be interested in the job. It's implied that such conversations are common when it comes to hiring people for "problem-solving".
In Orca, this standard circumlocution backfires on Keira. She's helping Vlad try to untangle the debts of a dead noble; when another Jhereg asks her why, she truthfully starts telling him it's for a friend, and he doesn't believe her.
From the first novel in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, Shards of Honor, both Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan use this device very early on in their acquaintance, when the topic of prior romantic relationships has somehow unaccountably come up. Although neither character is openly Genre Savvy (yet, anyway), they each know the other person is actually talking about their own experiences, not those of "a friend".
He paused for a long time. Cordelia waited, barely breathing, uncertain whether to encourage him to go on or not. He continued eventually, but his voice went flatter and he spoke in a rush. "The first was another pigheaded young aristocrat like himself, and he played out the game by the rules. He knew the use of the two swords, fought with flair, and almost killed m — my friend. The last thing he said was that he'd always wanted to be killed by a jealous husband, only at age eighty." By this time, the little slip was no surprise to Cordelia, and she wondered if her story had been as transparent to him. It certainly seemed so.
In "A Scandal in Bohemia", the masked "Count von Kramm" tries to hire Holmes as an agent for the King of Bohemia. Holmes, however, sees through this immediately, and the King discards the mask accordingly.
In "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire", Robert Ferguson sends Holmes a letter supposedly on behalf of a friend, to ask him to study the friend's wife's inexplicable vampiric behaviour. Holmes reads it, and immediately instructs Dr. Watson to take down a wire: "Will examine your case with pleasure" (emphasis added).
In P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books, Bertie Wooster is often assumed to be doing this when he in fact isn't. He'll tell, for example, Honoria Glossop, that he has this friend who's madly in love with her. He really does; he's referring to, in this case, Bingo Little. In fact, the idea of marrying Honoria repels Bertie. But she assumes he's talking about himself. And he's far too preux chevalier to correct her.
In The Mayor Of Casterbridge, Lucetta describes her love problem to Elizabeth-Jane this way, Liz sees through it but doesn't know who the other parties are till later.
Similarly to the Wodehouse books, Point of Honour by Madeleine Robins begins when the heroine is hired by a nobleman to find a fan, on behalf of his friend. She assumes that he's invoking the trope; in reality, he's telling the truth.
Subverted in A Tale of Two Cities when Mr. Lorry consults Dr. Mannete about the case of a friend’s mental shock. The case is not about Mr. Lorry; it is about Dr. Manette himself, who has experimented a Heroic BSOD and in the verge of a Sanity Slippage that only has been avoided by the use of his Companion Cube.
"Doctor Manette," said Mr. Lorry, touching him affectionately on the arm, "the case is the case of a particularly dear friend of mine. Pray give your mind to it, and advise me well for his sake — and above all, for his daughter's — his daughter's, my dear Manette."
"If I understand," said the Doctor, in a subdued tone, "some mental shock — ?"
"Be explicit," said the Doctor. "Spare no detail."
Subverted in one of the Diary Of A Teenage Girl books by Melody Carlson. Current main character Kim is fishing for advice to give her best friend who's having boyfriend troubles; Kim's distraught father thinks she is the one sleeping with her boyfriend in a desperate attempt to stay with him, until her best friend turns up pregnant.
In Orson Scott Card's The Tales of Alvin Maker, Alvin is a major Weirdness Magnet; unfortunately, an evil force hanging around him has a habit of trying to make Alvin's father kill him (while the father has no idea what's putting all these terrible compulsions in his head). When Taleswapper arrives, Alvin's father asks him for advice and trots out this line, describing a fictional Swede with a son who has white-blond hair. But he can't even keep the pronouns straight. Taleswapper kindly plays along, and suggests the "Swedish friend" apprentice his boy somewhere else for safety.
In the Miss Marple short story collection The Tuesday Club Murders, the actress Jane Heiler tells Miss Marple and a number of other guests at a dinner party about a strange thing that had happened to a "friend" of hers. Everyone at the party immediately assumes this trope, figuring that it was something that had happened to Jane herself. They were half-right. Jane was the actress in the story, but it wasn't about something that had happened to her, but something she was going to do. She was planning to commit the crime described, and her story was a Trial Balloon Question to see if Miss Marple could figure it out.
Funnily inverted in Simpleton by Sergey Lukyanenko. Trix asks a tailor if he has any off-the-shelf clothes for a friend about his size. The tailor wrongly assumes that Trix needs them for himself, but is mystified by possible reasons to pretend. Trix doesn't want to confess that the clothes are for a princess running away from a political Arranged Marriage, so he plays along.
Inverted several times in the novel Doctors. When high schooler Laura learns she's pregnant, best friend Barney suggests that she ask her father, a doctor, for the name of an abortionist on behalf of a "friend" (the book is set pre-Roe vs. Wade). She refuses, knowing that he would instantly realize that she was asking for herself. Determined to help, Barney confides in the pharmacist that he works for, telling him, "a girl I know is in trouble". When the man wrongly assumes that Barney is the one responsible, Barney doesn't bother to correct him. Years later, in medical school, Barney is frightened to realize that one of his classmates is suicidal. When he frantically calls the school counselor for help, the man wastes precious time urging Barney to admit that he's the one in trouble.
In Heart In Hand, Darryl uses a variant to talk about his relationship with Alex, a rival hockey player, to his friend - he doesn't hide that it's his own problems, but he frames it as "girl trouble".
In The Monk, Rosario tells Ambrosio a story of how his sister Matilda fell in love with an unattainable man and died of a broken heart after he rejected her affections. When Ambrosio says that the man was far too cruel to Matilda, it emboldens Rosario to confess that he is actually Matilda and Ambrosio is her object of affections.
Live Action TV
Noel from Felicity gives it something of a twist: he's a dormitory RA and talks to the other RAs about his problems as if they're the problems of one of the students in his building, who's been asking him for help. The others aren't fooled for a second, but let him think they are.
Played with in an episode of Friday Night Lights where a student tries to report an attempted rape to his school counselor. She assumes he's the victim and ashamed, but in this case it's actually another person.
Subverted in Lizzie McGuire where Lizzie actually is talking about a friend, and her mother keeps trying to comfort her as if she is talking about herself.
In Season Four, after a particularly ugly night at a club, a clearly wasted Ryan tells Michael that "his friend Troy" might have a drug problem. Michael doesn't get the hint, and tells Ryan that he should put a wire on Troy so they can bring down whoever's been selling him the drugs.
Angela talks to Pam about her friend "Noelle," whose boyfriend went to corporate to cover for her. Pam seems to see through it, though.
Parker Lewis Can't Lose: Parker Lewis tried to get advice from his parents about how to convince his best friend Mikey to not drop out of high school. They jumped to the predictable conclusion; then again, he should have been Genre Savvy enough to not open with "I have this friend who's thinking of dropping out of school..."
In the Torchwood episode "Something Borrowed", Ianto has to get Gwen a new wedding dress because she's been impregnated with an alien baby. He says the dress is for a friend, but the salesman clearly doesn't believe him.
Ianto: I'm looking for a wedding dress for my friend.
Salesman: Ah, of course you are Sir. You'd be surprised, we're quite used to men buying for their... friends.
The Cosby Show used this with Denise asking Cliff if he could examine "a friend" for a possible STD. Turns out there really was a friend (who only had a minor urinary tract infection)
In CSI: New York Lindsay is concerned about the impact of the lab chemicals on her unborn baby. So she does this with Stella, the lab's unpaid safety officer (one of her tasks). It's a rather silly scene as the entire audience can tell she's pregnant just by looking at her.
Played with in one episode when Bob and Midge thought Kitty was having an affair with Hyde (she was really teaching him how to dance). Midge went to talk with Kitty and said she had a friend that was a married mother who was thinking about leaving her family because she was in love with a much younger man. Kitty at first thought it was a neighbor but after Midge denied it she assumed it was really Midge going to her for advice. She told her to stick with her husband and not think about the other man, and they both agreed that the friend would do that not realizing that they thought the other was having an affair.
Cleverly subverted in an episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). Marty Hopkirk (a ghost) is suffering from unexplained feelings of nausea and fading. Unable to work out what this could be, his still-living partner Jeff Randall goes to the doctor and describes Marty's symptoms as if they were his own. The doctor then says, "These aren't your symptoms, Mr. Randall, are they? They're of a friend." Jeff congratulates him on his deduction, only for the doctor to follow up with "Tell your friend that she's pregnant."
Seth: When people are burned, they become vigilant. Really! My friend once brought a girl home who turned out to be a dude, so every time he meets a girl, you can bet he checks for an Adam's apple.
Amy: Really. That really happened to Seth's "friend."
On Saved by the Bell, Zack wants to go on a skiing trip, but is failing his classes. He tells his father that a friend of his is in a similar dilemma, and his father says that if he were the friend's father, he'd ground the friend for life. Cue Zack going off on some tangentially related daydream regarding the latter...
Clark and Lex do about the same thing in an earlier episode as well.
Clark: My friend got mixed up with the wrong crowd, and now they're making him pay for it.
Lex: Is this the old proverbial friend who happens to be you?
Clark (truthfully) tells him it's Pete Ross in the very next line.
An interesting variation occurs in Wings, wherein the person being addressed assumes that they are the friend in question.
Brian: (after finding out that his new mechanic, Budd, is hiding something about his past) Hey, Roy, let me ask you something. If you knew somebody who had some sort of incident in their past, what would you-
Roy: (becoming nervous) What are you looking at me like that for? What did you find out? Damn it, those records were supposed to be sealed! Don't you believe in a fresh start? (walks away, leaving Brian dumbfounded)
The no-really-it's-not-me-it's-this-other-guy version happens repeatedly to Bertie in Jeeves and Wooster.
Frasier: A man from my building approached me with a very intriguing problem. Seems he's been having a recurring dream.
Niles: Oh, please. That little gambit didn't work when we were in knee-socks. What was your dream, Frasier?
Frasier: Oh all right.
Niles isn't immune to it either.
Niles: A funny thing happened the other day. One of my patients had a rather amusing Freudian Slip. He was having dinner with his wife and he meant to say "Pass the salt," but instead he said "You've ruined my life, you blood-sucking shrew."
The Listener: Oz is trying to figure out what's going on with Toby, but not wanting to bring Toby's name into it, he tells his supervisor that he has a friend who's been acting strangely, getting distracted on the job, etc. The supervisor at first thinks Oz is talking about himself, but later, when Oz mentions that it's as if his friend can tell what he's thinking, the supervisor jumps to the conclusion that Oz is talking about him.
The Famous Jett Jackson doubled up on this, with both of Jett's boy and girl friends being asked by a boy and a girl, respectively, for advice about their feelings for the other advice seeker. When Jett's friends go to him for help, he, naturally assumes his friends are talking about each other, but keeps up the "charade".
In an episode of Men Behaving Badly, Tony needs to buy glasses but is embarrassed to tell the optician, so he claims they're for a friend in prison. When she points out that the eye tests she does on him wont be very useful for his friend's eyes, he says that his friend "only wants to see quite well".
In an episode of New Tricks, Brian is attempting to time the distance between a suspect's place of work and a murder scene to determine whether the suspect could have killed the victim. Having reached an inconclusive result after running the course, he corners a nearby policeman and hypothetically asks whether he thinks it'd be possible to leave the workplace, beat someone to death, dump their body in a BMW and leave it in the carpark where the body was originally found. Unfortunately for Brian, he looks a bit crazy at the best of times, and the policeman notices that there happens to be a BMW parked nearby... and Jack is thus forced to call the arresting officer and inform him that while he acknowledges that Brian is a bit weird, he probably wasn't actually planning on killing someone in this fashion.
Drop the Dead Donkey: Helen, planning to come out to her parents, asks around the office for a purely hypothetical way to admit a personal secret to a close relative. No-one is fooled:
Henry: See them face to face, just spit it out. Say "I'm a lesbian." Helen: Henry, I-I'm talking in general...terms. Henry: Say "Mum and Dad, I'm a muff-muncher. I, er, I like shagging other women! So damn the lot of you!" Helen: Oh for God's sake!
Taub in House explains that he's so adamantly against suicide because he knew a guy in college who almost threw his life away and hurt the people he loved. By the end of the episode, he's accused of using this trope, but it isn't clear either way.
In one episode, Klinger tries to invoke this trope to describe a potential problem in the unit, very badly, to Colonel Potter (Who starts seeing through the story when Klinger mentions that the other MASH unit the alleged friend is at is in Cleveland). Potter just tells him to spit it out and Klinger admits that he found the newest nurse in the unit passed-out drunk in the mess the night before.
Subverted in another episode when Father Mulcahy drops in on visiting psychiatrist Sidney Freedman and mentions he's worried about a friend, saying "Things aren't going so well for him and he's feeling a little low." When Sidney asks who the friend is, Mulcahy says it's him, Sidney...who has, in fact, been stewing over an unsuccessful therapy case.
Will and Grace: Karen does this to Grace when she's pretending to be a maid to woo a hot maintenance man (of course, Karen's grip on reality is tenuous at best anyway):
Karen: Listen. I have this friend who lives at The Palace Hotel. And she and her maid Ro—Mosario...switched places so that my friend could pose as a poor, but honest chambermaid to woo a hunky maintenance man. Now my friend's fallen in love with him, and she's afraid that if she tells him the truth, he'll leave her. (Grace reaches to steal mints from Karen's chambermaid cart) Hey, hands off my friend's cart!
Grace: So, you're afraid...that a poor janitor might not love you because you're rich?
Karen: Not me, my friend!
On Neighbours Stingray talks to his doctor about his friend who was given a "present" by another friend that he doesn't want. It takes Karl only a few seconds to figure out he's a)talking about himself and b) talking about a suspected STD. It doesn't help that Stingray's friend's name keeps changing. It turns out that his problem was just caused by nylon underpants.
Parodied and subverted on The Sketch Show, when a man tells his doctor that his friend is a woman trapped in a man's body - and that that woman has a man trapped in her's. The doctor asks if he's talking about himself. He denies it, saying that it's his flatmate. Further subverted when she asks him to bring his friend to see her. He then pulls out a Babushka doll and opens it up.
An episode of Hetty Wainthropp Investigates had Geoffrey Shawcross worried about offending the Wainthropps if he moved out to live with his girlfriend. He tries to gauge their reactions indirectly by making up a story about a mate of his, living with his rather conservative aunt and uncle, who wanted advice on how to handle moving out. Richard catches on quickly and tells Geoffrey that the guy's uncle would probably be okay with it, but he should ask the aunt... Continued when he clues in Hetty by asking if Geoffrey had told her about his mate, and when she gave her approval by saying that she thought the guy's aunt wouldn't mind if he moved.
In an episode of That's So Raven, Cory asked Raven for his friend who wanted to gain the attraction of a girl. She automatically assumed and not so subtly made some suggestions for his "friend". The audience knew, but she didn't, that a rather scary kid at school was forcing him to help him - he really was asking for a friend.
One episode of Sons of Anarchy has Tara going to her boss to ask if she knew a place where a friend could get a discreet abortion and pay cash. The boss responds by giving Tara the name of a clinic, clearing Tara's schedule for the next day, and assuring her that she thought Tara's "friend" was making the right choice. This is both a subversion and a straight example: Tara really was asking for a friend (the stripper girlfriend of one of the Sons), but Tara was also pregnant, and her boss's response was one of the factors in convincing her to make an appointment at the abortion clinic as well.
Inverted in an episode of Just Shoot Me!: Finch asks Jack for advice on a guy called Kyle who is making moves on Adrienne. Before Finch can finish his first sentence, Jack jumps to the conclusion that Finch is Kyle, and refuses to believe otherwise.
Leslie: "Say you had a friend who wanted to do something good but a little risky and she was kind of nervous about it and this friend is me."
On Tyler Perry's House of Payne, Malik's friend Kevin actually did contract syphilis but was ashamed/didn't know how to get help, so Malik offers to talk to his own dad, CJ and uses the trope to talk to him about it. Of course, CJ mistakenly believes that Malik is the "friend" and promptly flies off the handle until Kevin confesses that he is the one who actually needs help.
In an episode of Cheers, Frasier does this with Sam regarding Diane saying Sam's name in bed. Since he's a psychiatrist, he claims that it is a patient rather than a friend, and names himself Thor.
On Fringe, Peter says he's planning on going fishing, but doesn't want to go alone. When Walter asks who he's going with, Peter tells him a story about a man who, as a boy, always wanted to go fishing with his father, who never had time for him. Walter assumes that Peter is going fishing with his friend from the story, and asks if he can come along too.
Dick: I have this friend… whose brother Harry is a much better artist than he is. Mary: Ah, so this is about you and Harry. Dick: Am I that transparent?
In another episode, Don stole one of Sally's panties while she was doing laundry. He tried using this trope:
Don: It's, uh, it's another case. A robbery. Sally: What'd the guy steal, Don? Don: Um, money — money from a beautiful bank teller — not you. She was folding this stack of bills because she's a teller, see? Sally: Yeah, I got it, she's a teller. Don: And so when she turned her back from the bills, he just... had to touch them. Sally: Why'd he do that, Don? Don: Because he wanted to be near her. Vicariously, you know. And when she came back, he was so ashamed that he just shoved the underwear in his pocket![beat] The money! The money! He shoved the money in his underwear. IN HIS POCKET!
Spock: We have a crew member aboard who's showing signs of stress and fatigue, reaction time down 9-12%, associational reading Norm Minus 3. Kirk: That's much too low a rating. Spock: He's becoming irritable and quarrelsome, yet he refuses to take rest and rehabilitation. Kirk: Mm-hm. Spock: Now, he has that right, but we've found... Kirk: A crewman's right ends where the safety of the ship begins. Now, that man will go ashore on my orders. What's his name? Spock: James Kirk.
Subverted in an episode of How I Met Your Mother. When trying to figure out why Robin doesn't like going to malls, one of the theories was that she was married before at a mall. The idea is lent credence by realizing Robin constantly talked about a friend of hers who got married way too young, believing it to be this trope. When Ted confronted her about it she even "admitted" it was true and she was married before. The reality is that she lied about that because she was embarrassed over the real reason she doesn't go to malls, she was a Canadian pop star with one hit "Let's Go To The Mall" and had to sing it in dozens of malls across Canada.
Subverted on an episode of Once And Again. Grace is asking her aunt Judy about a friend she knows who might be anorexic. Judy, of course, immediately assumes Grace is asking about herself, but it's actually Jessie she's asking about.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Willow uses this to ask Xander's advice about her relationship problems. Xander interrupts with, "Will, I've deciphered your ingenious code" and Willow just drops the pretense.
In one episode of Happy Days, Ritchie asks Al for advice for his friend. Al thinks that Ritchie is secretly talking about himself, in spite of the fact that the problem his friend is having is that he's black and having difficulty fitting into their mostly-white neighborhood.
Inverted in an episode of Blossom. Worried about Six, Blossom confides in a counselor, who of course, laughs and says,, "Why is it always "a friend"?", before Blossom reassures him that it is a friend she's concerned about.
One episode of Scrubs did the Tale of Two Cities inversion: While Turk is insisting there's nothing wrong with him, Molly asks him to diagnose one of her patients, listing the same symptoms he's been displaying. Turk instantly realises the "patient" has diabetes.
Friends : Regarding the Ross, Rachel and Julie's love triangle.
"He must decide / He must decide / Even though I made him up, he must decide!"
Played straight in the Prefab Sprout song 'Lions in My Own Garden' which features the lyric 'I've got this friend who thinks he's in love with you/ And it wouldn't sum it up to say he's singing the blues'.
Clay Walker's "This Woman and This Man". He uses the chorus to try and get through to a lover:
There was this woman and there was this man
And there was this moment they had a chance
To hold on to what they had
How could they be so in love and still never see?
Now nothin' could be sadder than
This woman, this woman and this man
The Civil Wars' "I've Got This Friend". A man and a woman sing a duet in which each one assures the other they know the perfect "friend" to fix the other person up with. The implication is that both of them are actually talking about themselves.
Neil Young's "Barstool Blues" has the drunken, rambling narrator declare "Once there was this friend of mine who died a thousand deaths…"
The Wizard of Id. A woman buys a lurid magazine, claiming "It's not for me, it's for friend". The saleman replies, "Isn't it strange how many customers only have one friend."
Bridget Christie on The Now Show: "Now I have this close personal friend, who is very similar to me in many ways. We're the same age, we both have size six feet, that sort of thing. But she is absolutely not me. So what happened to this other woman was..."
In the Gilbert and Sullivan play Ruddigore two characters sing of their unspoken love for each other in third person by asking the other for advice on what their "friend" who is in love ought to do.
Played both ways in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, where Sonia, in love with Astrov, asks him "Tell me, doctor, if I had a friend or a younger sister, and if you knew that she, well—loved you, what would you do?", he says he couldn't love her because he doesn't love anyone; later when Yelena tells him outright that Sonia is in love with him, he assumes she's making use of this trope, and confesses how much he loves Yelena.
Twelfth Night has Viola, disguised as a boy named Cesario, talking about love with Orsino, with whom she's fallen in love. Orsino claims that women aren't capable of loving very strongly, and Cesario responds by telling Orsino about his..."sister".
In faith, they are as true of heart as we. My father had a daughter loved a man, As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should your lordship.
In Measure for Measure, Angelo tries this on Isabel, suggesting that someone who might be able to reverse her brother's death sentence if she gave up her virtue to ... this someone.
La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein combines this with Oblivious to Love: the Grand Duchess is in love with Fritz, but tries to convince him that her declarations of love are from a friend of hers. Fritz takes it at face value, but is confused by the multiple allusions the Duchess uses, so in the end she thinks he's gotten the message and is now aware of her feelings for him (he isn't).
Subverted with Shu, the Tower Social Link from Persona 4, will occasionally talk to the protagonist about a transfer student at his school. As the link progresses it seems increasingly obvious that Shu is talking about himself. Finishing that Social Link though, would reveal that it's a real different person and Shu eventually befriended him.
This still happens when you're female, But, then, someone of any gender can wield a weapon, right?
Stocke from Radiant Historia runs into someone asking for advice in this manner. It's Raynie, asking about love issues. Specifically, her love for him. He instantly finds out what's going on, though the details caught him off guard.
In Fallout: New Vegas, one of the "services" James Garret of the Atomic Wrangler asks you to find is a Sexbot, which he insists is for those disgusting machine fetishists. When you get him one, his reaction is nothing short of the best day of his life, thinking about the the possibilities and how he'll learn about F.I.S.T.O. via trial and error. For the customers of course!
The Nintendo 3DS advice bird uses this in a way in one of it's pieces of advice on the system's use of 2D and 3D photo formats. "The other day, a friend of mine accidentally deleted an MPO file. The 3D data was lost, so the photo could be viewed only in 2D. He was pretty upset about it. Learn from my...I mean, my friend's...mistake!"
Draco Malfoy doesn't even get to say what his hypothetical brother's question was before Lucius says he'd kill him in a Simply Potterific strip. What Lucius thought Draco was going to say is unclear, though this strip gives an idea.
It's actually part of an existing arc where Draco sees Hermione at the Yule Ball and falls for her, as referenced by the author underneath the comic (and can be seen here and here). So the question Draco was going to ask would be 'what if his hypothetical brother fell for a muggleborn girl'. That said, the follow up comic already mentioned could be taken to read either way (of Lucius suspecting Draco of being gay or of being a muggle lover).
In Misfile, after waking up in bed with Vashiel, a hangover, and no memories of the previous night, Ash asks her dad (a gynecologist) how one could hypothetically tell if a woman was a virgin. For a "friend" at school who was curious.
Ari: I have a hypothetical question for you. Sherry: Shoot. Ari:[Incredibly detailed summary of her most recent character arc.]
Sherry, knowing everyone who was given a hypothetical persona, figures it out. 
In one strip of Dinosaur Comics, T-Rex does this retroactively - after saying something embarrassing, he later claims that he was "pretending to be a friend of his" when he said it.
Max in Scandal Sheet! asks Andrea for advice to give his friend Phil about how to explain his feelings to a girl. Andrea assumes Max meant he wanted to know how he (Max) could explain his feelings to Andrea. He realises this later and is upset:
"And now she thinks I'm in love with her!" "But you ARE in love with her, Max. You've been trying to tell her for months." "Oh. Yeah, that does make it seem like a bit less of a disaster."
Housepets!: In this strip Fox asks his cousin Bailey about a hypothetical dog with a romance problem, but she in turn cuts straight to the chase and tells him to just go ahead and hook up with the object of his newly discovered affections.
Inverted on The Guild. Codex, trying to find out why Zaboo and Vork act the way they do, calls up her therapists and pretends that she's the one with their problems.
In episode 3 of Dragon Ball Z Abridged, when Krillin has to inform Chi-Chi of Goku's death and Gohan's kidnapping.
Krillin: So, Chi-Chi, hypothetically: what would you do if you were told that your husband was dead and your son was kidnapped by his worst enemy? Chi-Chi: I'd castrate the messenger in his sleep with a rusty carving knife!
Inverted in Rhett & Link's The Surrogate Sharers series, in which they confess having done something themselves on another's behalf.
"If somebody sent you this video, maybe you should sit down."
Played for comedy in Episode 5 of Manwhores. Randy (drunkenly): "I have this...friend and his name is Ran-Randy and...Well, let's just say Randy has to sleep with 248 men in the past six days so he can get the past six days so he can get the cash to pay his rent and now he's considering shooting himself in the mouth with a gun he found in an alleyway."
"What if say, hypothetically, someone could kill another person with a diary..."
In one of the A Day in the Limelight "Interlude" episodes of Worm, we see a forum thread on the in-universe website Parahumans Online in which a longtime fan of Bitch/Hellhound/Rachel asks how one might "hypothetically" become a minion. Said fan posts later in the thread to say it turned out "Harder than I thought but all good."
Homer realizes that he has a crush on his hot co-worker, Mindy. He brings it up at Moe's by mentioning his fictional "friend", Joey-Joe-Joe-Junior Shabadoo. Of course, the real Joey-Joe-Joe is in the bar at the time.
In another episode Smithers purchases estrogen tablets saying that "They're for a friend... who's trapped in the body of another friend".
A variant; whilst Marge is away on vacation, baby Maggie runs away. Marge calls home, and Homer takes the opportunity to find out what her reaction would be if the dog ran away. Marge is upset. Homer finds this discouraging.
And in the episode where Homer becomes a mattress salesman, Reverend Lovejoy asks his advice on a new mattress because "I have a friend. Well, a friend of a friend." Homer loudly replies "Sex problem, eh?"
Doug did this pretty much every time something happened and he needed advice.
Home Movies uses the twist where every time Brendan tries to introduce his friend to the girl he has a crush on, his friend runs away so the girl thinks he's the one with a crush on her. Later, when Brendan tells his mom about what's going on, she again thinks he's talking about himself rather than his friend.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: During the commentary track for "The Crossroads of Destiny", during the scene in which Iroh and Aang are searching for Zuko and Katara one of the crew comments that he half expects Aang to ask Iroh "I have this friend who's the Avatar..."
Hank discovers he has a condition that basically means he has no butt and has to wear a special prosthetic to keep from injuring himself. After a lawnmower race where he wears the prosthetic, a man walks up to him and asks for some information for a friend who shares his condition. As the man leaves, Hank gets a look at him and declares that he might need to wear one as well.
In the episode "Three Men and a Bastard", Dale discovers that Bill's girlfriend's daughter has the same paternal DNA as his son Joseph, meaning they were both fathered by The Casanova John Redcorn (something Dale doesn't know). When his wife Nancy finds out, she angrily confronts Redcorn while Dale is in the room, and they end up having a fight about it where they use Dale's name in place of Redcorn's, with lines such as "Dale would never cheat on you...and even if he did he would use protection!" Dale just stands off to the side, getting increasingly confused.
After Kyle watches The Passion of the Christ, he feels guilty about being Jewish, and asks the Priest for advice regarding his "Jewish Friend".
Randy attempts this in "Two Guys Naked in a Hot Tub", when trying to discuss whether or not watching another guy masturbate would make you gay. This merely drives the other men in wanting to kick this "friend"'s ass, until Randy mentions he lives in Florida.
This happens in Rocket Power. On one occasion Reggie uses this on Tito, who thinks she's talking about somebody he knows, keeps asking about her and tells Reggie to give his regards.
On The Penguins of Madagascar, the chimps Mason and Phil get a female named Lulu staying in her habitat. Phil falls in love with her and asks Mason to speak on his behalf. Lulu thinks Mason is speaking of himself when he talks about his "friend", and the rest of the episode is spent trying to get her to fall in love with Phil instead, with disastrous results.
In Beavis and Butt-Head (Pregnant Pause), Beavis thinks he's pregnant and tells Butthead he knows this guy who wants to know what it's like to have babies.
In Futurama, after Zapp Brannigan's girdle breaks under the pressure of gravity: "Let me ask you a serious question, Leela: Does the company that made your bra make a girdle as well? I ask because a friend of mine..."
A purported example from real life (debunked by Snopes here) is a soldier telling his parents about his crippling injuries as if they happened to "a friend" he wants to bring home with him. When his parents say they can't possibly care for this friend, he commits suicide. Somehow, this is supposed to make the soldier look noble, even though he didn't reveal the whole truth about his condition. While it's still very broken, the idea seems to be that if he'd told them the truth they'd have felt obliged to look after him, so he uses the "friend" story to find out what they really think. Which doesn't work, for the reasons Snopes gives.