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Recently my friend Amy made a new friend, Mary. I’ve met her a few times, and while we were polite to each other, she isn’t someone I’d care to interact with more than necessary. I don’t seek her out, nor do I invite her to social events. Mary has slowly become part of my circle of friends. She has made a few comments intimating she’s upset that she hasn’t been invited to some of our get-togethers, but she is in a very different financial bracket than the rest of us. The restaurants and events we choose to go to are pricey. I recently hosted a dinner party for my friends and their plus ones, and Amy brought Mary. I didn’t want her at my house. We’re not friends, and I don’t enjoy her presence. I’m hosting another dinner party for the holidays, and I know Amy will bring Mary. I do not invite people I don’t want to be around to my parties. How do I politely tell Amy to stop bringing Mary?
—She’s Not Invited; She Comes Anyway
I certainly hope your dislike for Mary is rooted in something other than “she can’t afford to spend as much money on appetizers as I can,” because the only sin she appears to have committed is being less rich than the rest of your friends. While you’re certainly within your rights not to invite Mary to an event you’re hosting, sending dinner-party invitations with further instructions about who someone can invite as a plus one should be reserved for more extreme cases than this one.
I think your best option is to include Amy on the invitation and find a way to enjoy yourself despite Mary’s presence—surely at a dinner party full of guests you’ll find someone you want to talk to. It would be awkward and, I think, an overexertion of your rights as a host, to send Amy an invitation “plus one,” then add, “but not the one you’d like to bring.” It would be one thing if Mary had said something rude or offensive the last time you’d had her as a guest in your home. In that case you might say something like, “I would love for you to come but I have to ask you not to bring Mary, because she was so rude to Scorinthians last time she visited/monopolized the conversation/stole my dishwasher.” That said, if you simply can’t stand the thought of Mary as a guest in your home, then you should ask Amy not to bring her. If Amy decides not to attend, or is angry with you for asking, then that’s a risk you’re simply going to have to run.
* * *
I broke up with my boyfriend of a few years about three months ago. We’ve kept things cordial, and I’ve made it very clear that we are only going to be friends. Recently his mother contacted me and told me that I needed to stop speaking with her son because I was “stringing him along.” She also said that my mother should block him on her social media pages because he “obsesses” over glimpses into my life. I told her I didn’t want to discuss him with her and ended the conversation. She persisted in telling me that she felt I was dismissive of her. I think I should let him know about her meddling, as it has caused problems for him in the past (she was sneaking around buying him alcohol when he was supposed to be cleaning up his act). But I also don’t want to cause any drama. Should I spill the beans? Keep it to myself? Stop talking to him altogether?
—Trying to Keep an Even Keel
Stop talking to your ex and his mother. You were rightly dismissive of his mother! What she did was so bizarrely inappropriate that it merited a thorough and a frosty dismissal. Do not take any more of her calls. He’s your ex, and it’s not your responsibility to make sure he has a good relationship with his mother. Don’t get overly enmeshed in his life just because she is.
I’m not saying you have to block his number if you genuinely enjoy his friendship, but you don’t say anything about wanting to be friends with him, merely that you have had to communicate more than once that he needs to stop trying to reignite your romance. If you told him you were “only going to be friends” not because you actually want to stay in his life but because you were trying to soften the blow of your breakup, you’re not doing either of you any favors. You’re not dating this guy anymore, and his mother is no longer your problem. It sounds like you gave yourself a great gift in disentangling yourself from him. Keep up the good work, and keep up the distance.
* * *
I’ve been with a man I love very much for 15 years, and I feel trapped. He is terrible with money and has lied to me a number of times to hide his shame at getting into yet another situation where bills got away from him. It seems that no matter how many times I tell him that it’s the lying that upsets me, not the money, nothing changes. I have more money than he does, so I can help him, but I think he feels inadequate because he’s not a “provider” even though he knows I don’t care about that. For obvious reasons, we have never commingled our finances. Between these money issues and some health issues, I feel that if we ever separated, he would be unable to make it on his own. And I don’t want to separate! But feeling like I can’t leave is a millstone around my neck.
Several years ago we did separate briefly, and he stayed with friends and never made progress toward living independently. We have what looks like an adult relationship; he does his share of the housework without being asked and is generally a good guy. But in the back of my mind I feel like I can never escape.
Is that crazy? If I don’t want to break up, why should the hypothetical consequences concern me? We’ve tried therapy, and while I thought at the time that it had helped us communicate, nothing has really changed, and neither he nor the therapist really ever understood why I feel so trapped. Am I not explaining it well, or am I looking at the situation the wrong way?
You feel trapped because you are trapped. You have not failed to explain why this dynamic is painful to you. Your boyfriend knows that it hurts and bewilders you when he lies to you about his finances, and he has decided not to do anything differently because this situation is working for him. You make so many excuses for him in your letter, saying that he lies to you “to hide his shame,” as if that justifies the fact that he regularly lies to you. He is not “terrible with money”—that phrase implies that it’s some innate, unchangeable part of his nature, rather than an active, continuous decision on his part. He makes bad choices with his money, and then he lies to you about those choices despite knowing that this makes you feel panicked, responsible for his survival, and as if you are going crazy, rather than having honest conversations and making difficult decisions. He has decided that letting you feel like you are going crazy and like you cannot leave him is worth not having those conversations. That’s wrong, and disrespectful, and cruel, full stop. If your definition of an “adult relationship” with a “good guy” is one where your partner does his share of the housework, but you still feel like you cannot leave him, please know, if nothing else, that that is not what an adult relationship with a good guy looks like. The 15 years you have spent in crisis and panic have steadily eroded your ability to see what healthy boundaries and expectations look like. I don’t say that to add to your burden, but it doesn’t sound like you have anyone in your life who can affirm what you already know to be true—that you’re in a damaging and an unsafe relationship. The need to convince yourself that things are mostly fine except for this one little thing—your sense of safety and freedom—is slowly destroying your sense of well-being.
Even if your boyfriend feels guilty about what he does, even if he feels shame or self-loathing, he has decided to continue doing it, regardless of the effect it has upon you. Set aside how you think your boyfriend feels about his choices, and look solely at his actions: They’re manipulative and controlling, and you don’t deserve to be treated that way. I encourage you to find a therapist you can see by yourself who can call this behavior what it is—abusive—and who can help you set up a plan for leaving him without getting sucked back into the cycle of manipulation, secrecy, and control.
About three years ago I became friends with a guy in my grad program. (I’m a woman, and we’re both in our late 30s.) We’ve become close, and we talk about every aspect of our lives, including my dating life, but never his. In fact, he’s never mentioned any romantic prospects. I’ve long thought he might be gay, especially after I saw a couple of notifications pop up on his phone when he left it lying around that suggested he was interested in men. I know he goes to gay bars because he “likes the music.” We’ve even gone to some together, and he seems to know a lot of people there, although I’ve never seen him flirt or pick anyone up. I’ve brought up the topic in a general way, usually after we’ve had a few drinks, and he always laughs, deflects, and says he just “likes all people.”
We both come from somewhat conservative parts of the world, and I understand that this may be an issue with his parents, but we live in a big city and he’s an adult. In the last few months he’s become more moody, avoids me and other friends, and seems unhappy. He’s implied to one of his relatives that we had a romantic relationship in the past, which is not true. I want to help him, but I’m not sure how! Is there anything I can do or say?
—In the Closet
I’d encourage you not to frame your friend’s possibly being in the closet in terms of “being an adult.” Or, if you must, flip it on its head—if your friend is an adult, then respect his choice not to have an in-depth conversation with you about his sexual orientation when he deflects and offers you a polite nonanswer. It may be that he’s gay, or bisexual, or asexual, or aromantic; it may be that he faces more than simply “an issue” from his family. Whatever his situation, it won’t be helped by outside pressure. That doesn’t mean that your concern is misplaced or that you can’t offer your support. Tell him you’ve noticed that he’s seemed withdrawn and despondent lately and let him know that if he ever wants to talk, you’re available to listen without passing judgment. If he takes you up on your offer, that’s wonderful. If he doesn’t immediately respond, respect his wishes, but let him know that your door is always open if he ever changes his mind.
* * *
I was in an abusive relationship years ago. I’m now happily settled with a wonderful woman and am not affected in my everyday life by this abuse. But I wonder if I should go public with this, in order to warn other women in the queer community here, which is a very small world. By letting my friends know she was both emotionally and physically abusive to me, am I doing others a service or setting myself up for drama and retaliation? I’d kind of like to make it known, but I’m wary of any possible resulting conflict or negative effects on my life.
—Do I Out My Abuser?
It makes sense that you’re concerned about potential negative repercussions from speaking openly about your abuse. I wish I could tell you that you won’t experience any, but it’s entirely possible that you will. It may help to speak with a counselor or an advocate for victims of domestic violence first. They can help you clarify your goals, protect yourself from possible retaliation, and weigh the pros and cons as you see them when it comes to speaking up. Bear in mind that it is not your duty to make sure that your ex does not abuse anyone else—that responsibility is only theirs. You say that you’d “kind of like” to talk about your experience but that you have a number of concerns; my advice is to talk through your feelings with your partner, a counselor, or someone else you trust to have your best interests at heart first. Only you can decide whether or not the potential costs are worth it, and you can and should ask for support as you figure out what’s right for you.
* * *
When I had my daughter a few years ago, I invited my mother to visit. She seemed excited to be a grandmother, and even though we’ve had a fraught relationship in the past, I trusted her to help me. She did not. She made very hurtful comments about my weight the day after I gave birth via an emergency C-section (it’s not the first time she’s said cruel things to me). I tried to let it go, but in the week she spent with us afterward, she just got worse. I was feeling emotional from the hormones and the painkillers, so I didn’t want to watch anything violent. She put on an episode of a horror show that showed a baby being dismembered and didn’t turn it off when I asked. We got into a fight, and I asked her to leave. Eventually, we found a way to make peace, but I’ve never really trusted her since. Her behavior since then has been ... OK. I’ve had to draw firm boundaries and vigorously enforce them to keep her from saying cruel things to me or doing things with my daughter that my husband and I do not want, such as getting her ears pierced or cutting her hair without our permission.
Now I’m pregnant again, and everyone, including my husband, expects that I’ll have my mother visit us again to help after the new baby is born. She seems excited to spend time with her grandchildren. But thinking about having her near me while I’m vulnerable makes me feel ill. My husband insists that she’s changed and I’m making a big deal over nothing, but her words hurt and I don’t want to have to defend myself while I’m trying to recover from having a baby. I don’t want her around me until I’ve had some time to recover. My husband thinks I’m being cruel or unfair to her, and that she doesn’t really mean the hurtful things she says. I just don’t trust her, and even if she says cruel things out of carelessness, I don’t think it’s so much to ask people to be kind to me while I’m recovering. I hate the idea of her being around me when I’m hurting and weak, but I don’t know how to say anything to her if my own husband won’t even back me up.
—No Grandma Visits
Generally speaking, if someone says hurtful things a lot, even after someone else points out, “Hey, what you said was hurtful, and I want you to stop,” they mean the hurtful things they say. Your mother hasn’t had a series of verbal accidents, and your decision not to have her visit while you’re in the hospital recovering or in the days after you give birth is completely reasonable. I’m sorry that your husband is trying to dismiss your feelings, but since you’ve already had practice vigorously enforcing boundaries with her, you’ve got a good foundation to start with: “I’m not being cruel. I’m making sure that I’m comfortable, safe, and relaxed after giving birth to our child. I’m going to invite my mother to visit [preferably for a shorter time than before] X weeks after the baby is born, and I expect your support in this.”
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