DEAR CAROLYN: My husband’s family likes to play games, like pingpong, beanbag toss or cards. I am not a real fan of games, I get incredibly self-conscious and I am not very good at most of them. Several of his family members are very competitive and the pressure to play well doesn’t help.
My husband is pretty good at playing when he feels like it and saying no when he doesn’t feel like it. But when I try to bow out, his aunts or others family members will persuade me to play. I just don’t like games, but I do like chatting with people while they play.
We are all getting together soon, and I would appreciate some guidance on how to either get the game-players off my back or learn to relax and just play.
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DEAR NON-GAME-PLAYER: The answer is embedded in your husband’s ease: He knows he belongs, so he feels free to respond based on what he wants.
You’re not confident that you belong, so you’re responding from an insecure mix of what you want and what you think his family wants of you.
No means no, of course, even with pingpong among the aunties. However, people who are as boundary-challenged as this family appears to be will press harder when there’s insecurity in the water.
So the secret is to remind yourself that you’re “in.” You’re family, whether they like you or not, and if they don’t, it’s their problem. That’s the platform on which you can say “no” like you mean it — or “yes” like you don’t care if you launch pingpong balls into the hedge. It takes time, but it’ll come if you embrace it.
At its heart it’s a defiant position, to take, but angry defiance would be tone-deaf. You want light, family-friendly defiance, where you label your absentee self a Confirmed Spectator or Sideline Specialist or Conscientious Rejector — or you join in by asking, “OK, which team wants to lose?” Own it, own it, and smile.
DEAR CAROLYN: Years ago I had a close friend in college. We were both devout in our religion. Since then we have had little contact, but enough to allow me to tell him I am no longer of that religious mindset. I saw no purpose in telling him I have actually grown quite hostile to institutional religion in general and specifically to his (and my former) church.
Now he is about to be ordained and wants me to attend this ceremony. I want to support my friend, but it would make me extremely uncomfortable and be the height of hypocrisy. Should I just politely beg off and risk his thinking I do not care, or tell him the truth and cause him a different kind of distress?
– Between a Rock and a Church
DEAR BETWEEN A ROCK AND A CHURCH: In your place, I’d try to see attending as support not for a church, but for a friend, and for tolerance.
If your conscience won’t buy that: Presumably you’d miss it without any qualms if you had a prior commitment for ordination day. So, decline on the grounds of a prior commitment. That it’s a commitment to both your integrity and friendship needn’t be said out loud.