DEAR CAROLYN: I met a man who was a year out of a decades-long marriage, and we became seriously, passionately involved and discussed marriage. I was the first person he dated after he and his wife split.
After almost two years, he broke up with me rather than work on our problems, and immediately started dating others, settling in with one quickly.
Now, seven months later, he says he is still in love with me and wants to talk about resolving our problems. The problem is he won’t break up with his current girlfriend (whom he tells me he does not love), or tell her he’s talking to me. He doesn’t want to risk losing her in case we decide we can’t work things out, but I feel it’s unethical to talk behind her back. Is there a way forward for us?
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— Getting Back Together
DEAR GETTING BACK TOGETHER: Ethical shmethical. This guy is using his current girlfriend as a bedwarmer.
If he’ll dehumanize one person to serve his own selfish desires, then he’ll dehumanize you — if not in this exact way, then in some other way that serves his needs at the time.
Give yourself an early Festivus gift: Tell him stringing people along is despicable and stop taking his calls.
Forward only works if you’re not pointed toward a ditch.
DEAR CAROLYN: My sister told me she thought my co-workers were Taiwanese and Korean based on X and Y behaviors. They were actually from Vietnam and Hong Kong, respectively. She told me my friend who did an Ironman race must have obsessive-compulsive disorder because all people who participate in Ironmans do. I told her: “You haven’t seen his bathroom.”
She gave my husband a book for Christmas about introverts because she thinks he is one. And she just commented about a friend Matt who has a speech impediment. He doesn’t.
I truly think she is unaware of how she comes across. She thinks these are real observations she is making and that her assessments are completely true. What can I say to let her know that her perceptions do not translate to universal truths?
— Annoyed Sister
DEAR ANNOYED SISTER: Is it a universal truth that everyone who jumps to conclusions needs to be fixed?
I realize your sister’s labeling habit inevitably veers into one -ist or another, with side trips into “judgmental” and “cuckoo bird.” This will sometimes hurt, offend or just mystify others, which in turn would affect her socially.
But seeing it as your responsibility to break her of this habit risks turning you into a milder version of her — one who reduces people to a set of traits and declares herself an expert on them. (Ahem.)
Instead, stick to case-by-case responses to opinions you find problematic. If you’re close enough — your letter suggests you aren’t — cut straight to, “You do realize how bonkers that sounds, right?” Otherwise, play it straight: “If someone tagged my ethnicity based on X behavior, I’d find that offensive.” “I doubt you’d appreciate being group-diagnosed like that.”
Make a point of being honest about your opinions, versus corrective of hers, and you’ll stay on your side of the line.