DEAR CAROLYN: I have a great friend who I have kept some distance from, and sitting in my inbox is an email from him asking why.
The truth is that his wife made a pretty blatant pass at me that I deflected and, well, there is a level of awkward around them that I just don’t want to have in a social setting, and it seems like inviting just him out doesn’t work.
So is this one of those situations where lying is the less painful road, or do I really have to engage in “he said, she said” when she’ll just deny? I am thinking writing you for permission to lie is probably weak sauce, but the truth seems like a bitter pill.
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– Level of Truth
DEAR LEVEL OF TRUTH: Until you know the bitter pill is necessary, I suggest suck-it-up sauce.
A pretty blatant pass at one’s spouse’s great friend is a big violation of trust. I won’t argue with you there.
But it’s a violation of her bond with your friend. Your bond with him, technically, is unaffected; you deflected the pass as your duty to your friend required.
By avoiding your friend in response to the pass, though, you’re making him pay; this friendship he obviously values is the price of (presumably) a problem in his marriage, possibly a problem he doesn’t even know about. How is that right or fair?
Awkwardness alone is not an excuse to avoid somebody. You make plans, you see your friend, you acknowledge his wife politely, and you keep as much distance from her as you can, even if it just means subtly minimizing eye contact. For all you know, she’ll never cross that line again, which would prove avoidance to have been an overcorrection. (Suck-it-up sauce mixes well with forgiveness.)
If she crosses another boundary, then you will be ready: A dispassionate and audible-to-all, “Please get your hand off my knee,” for example, when she attempts an under-the-table pass when you’re all out to dinner, serves notice to both who are due to receive it. That’ll be awkward like you only read about, but also the closest you can get to having her tell him the truth herself — while making it harder for her to spin you as the one hitting on her. (It happens.)
This could all backfire on you, yes, but wouldn’t you rather fail at protecting the friendship than succeed at protecting yourself?
DEAR CAROLYN: So my brother is constantly making out with his girlfriend in front of everyone. Whether it’s groups of people talking, watching a movie or just the three of us, they are always kissing. I mean always.
Based on other conversations with him, I think she has insecurity issues. (He drove a friend who was a girl home and she said, “If I ever catch you driving another girl in your car, we’re over.” Or the time he walked with a classmate to the car and she forbade them from hanging out ever again.) As a result, she gets very angry if we ask them to stop kissing in front of us because we’re uncomfortable.
Any advice on how to tread carefully? He will bring up issues with her and ask for my opinion, so I want to be ready the next time he calls me.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Be ready to be the supportive, forgiving, attentively listening rock for him to lean on. This is not just about constant making-out.
Your brief description of this woman could be a pocket guide to abusive-relationship signs. She is possessive (the constant kissing, the suspicion of other women), controlling (telling your brother what he can and can’t do, “or else”), isolating (the kissing again, anger about friends/classmates). What these tell you is that she is not invested in your brother as a person, but instead as a means of propping herself up, a source of validation, insurance, power — which she both draws from him and uses against him.
The next time he brings up issues with her, please say to him: You’re a good person. You don’t deserve to be treated as if you’re always looking to cheat. I see you changing. This behavior isn’t like you, and I worry about that.
Say this not in an emotional barrage, but in calm and judicious segments, followed by listening to how he responds. Attacking her risks cornering him into defending her, since he clearly cares about her — plus, he chose her and you don’t want to force him to defend his judgment. Guide him instead toward the person you know him to be, and toward thinking about himself and his own needs in this relationship. Give him room to conclude for himself that whatever false sense of importance her smothering attention gives him, it isn’t worth life as a pawn.