Dear Ms. Behavior:
I got back in touch with an old friend, Shelly, through Facebook. We took it offline, and recently started hanging out socially. She now is involved with a woman (Joan) who tore through my circle of friends a few years ago. Joan is a woman everyone I know once voted “The Least Likeable Person…EVER.” She is a liar, cheat, and brownnoser—a real nightmare!
At lunch the other day, Shelly was waxing romantic about how great Joan is. They’ve been dating only a few months, but it sure didn’t sound like the Joan I know and hate.
Should I risk the friendship, and speak up in an attempt to save Shelly from all the inevitable horror that will come from any kind of association with Joan? Or should I keep it to myself?
—Frightened Old Friend
Dear Frightened Old Friend:
Shut your mouth, and let Shelly have her own experience of Joan’s lying, cheating, brownnosing personality. If Shelly is in love or even in lust with Joan, she won’t be open to hearing anything negative about her beloved right now, and you’ll just alienate yourself from her.
But be assured that if Joan is as wicked as you and your friends believe she is, she’ll reveal her true self to Shelly eventually. Perhaps you’ll have the opportunity to sift through the wreckage, and, if you’re in the mood, be supportive.
Of course, you could be wrong. People generally don’t change much, but there are rare exceptions, and it’s possible that something unusual has happened to Joan.
Maybe she’s found a guru, gone to rehab, taken up transcendental meditation, or otherwise slain her deceptive demons. Maybe she’s had years of therapy, had dozens of coffee enemas, or paid to have her aura scrubbed.
Either way, there’s nothing for you to say. If you want your old friend Shelly to stick around, you’ll have lots of opportunity for practicing loving kindness and compassion, or at least restraint of your own tongue.
Dear Ms. Behavior:
My new sweetheart, Jack, is young, beautiful, smart, and wonderful. I am head over heels about him, and so happy he is moving in with me.
I recently had a little birthday party for him at my place, and invited friends and family. The problem arose when I gave him his birthday present, a brand-new, very attractive, very expensive watch.
Unfortunately, Jack had a less-than-perfect response, announcing publicly that the watch was not the brand he wanted—he basically implied it was too cheap for him, and he deserved better. Beside the gift having set me back quite a bit of money, I was embarrassed in front of my friends and family, and they were embarrassed for me.
Everything was fine by the next day, when we marched back to the store, and I got him the Rolex he wanted (which was considerably more expensive), but I’m now afraid of what my friends think about him. Also, I don’t know how to tell him I’m not made of money, and he should be a little more gracious toward me, especially publicly.
Do you have any tips for what to say to Jack? He’s otherwise a really great guy.
Your attempt to fix Jack’s snit by rushing out and buying an even more expensive watch was a mistake. Instead of telling him how you felt about his rude behavior, your actions allowed him to believe that his tantrum was acceptable to you. You essentially rewarded him for being a jerk.
Your friends are probably not just embarrassed for you, but also worried about Jack sucking you dry (and not in a good way). You’re the one who has to live with him, and the one responsible for letting him know he can’t behave so ungraciously.
You could try saying something like, “You acted like a spoiled brat, and no one’s young and pretty enough to behave that way.” Or, more simply, “I’m not your Daddy.”
You also may want to dampen Jack’s extra-large gift expectations by sticking to low-key presents like tulips, chocolate kisses, and comfortable slippers for a year or two. Perhaps you each will discover more clearly whether Jack loves you or your extravagance.
© 2008 Meryl Cohen. Address questions and correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette (Houghton Mifflin). Signed copies are available directly from the author.