Dear Ms. Behavior:
Rikki, my girlfriend of eight months, just moved in with me. A couple of nights ago, we were drinking, and playing a silly truth-telling game with friends, when she told us something shocking: Several years ago, when she was still with her ex-girlfriend, Dana, Rikki secretly slept with Dana’s mother, Pat. Rikki and Pat were stoned at the time, and Rikki went for it.
But it wasn’t just a one-time drugged-out fling. Rikki ended up having a long relationship with Pat, sometimes even sneaking out of bed with Dana, and having sex with Pat while Dana slept in the next room!
Rikki says she knows it was wrong, and she feels guilty. She still doesn’t understand why she did it. Of course, she never told Dana (who is still a friend), but the secret has damaged their friendship.
Should I be scared about getting more deeply involved with Rikki?
—Scarred for Life
Dear Scarred for Life:
Among certain cultures, one of the worst insults you can hurl is: “Your mother.” Why? Mothers are supposed to be wholesome and virtuous, the source of all nurturing and unconditional love. Insult someone’s mother, and your intention obviously is to inflict a deep wound.
So, something seems particularly hostile and spiteful about fucking your girlfriend’s mother. It goes beyond the realm of ordinary betrayal, like, say, sleeping with the cute repairwoman who comes over and fixes your appliances—even though you already have a girlfriend—which, while indeed a betrayal, is more believable as something that “just happened.” It may or may not be something that’s forgivable, but at least it’s not necessarily intended to be entirely hateful.
However, if you have sex with your girlfriend’s mother, your intention is, at least in part, to hurt your girlfriend. It also suggests appallingly bad boundaries that go way beyond the ordinary bad boundaries of, say, sniffing a cute stranger’s pile of dirty clothes in the locker room, sleeping with a friend’s ex-lover, or having sex in your roommate’s bed while she’s on vacation.
As for Rikki’s mother-fucking crime, it’s good she feels remorseful, but has she done anything that would lead you to believe she has changed since she did this? Has she been to therapy, gotten sober, or read several hundred self-help books? If not, you might have to wonder how you can believe she has changed from who she was just a few short years ago.
Use your intuition, keep your eyes open, and try to be in touch with your inner wisdom regarding whether it’s safe to trust Rikki. The question-beneath-the-question is if she’d do something similarly appalling to you, regardless of whether it actually involved your mother.
Even if you’re convinced that Rikki is fine now, you should take one more added precaution: Call your mother, and ask her please not to have sex with your girlfriend.
Dear Ms. Behavior:
My old friends, Ted and Bobby, adopted a little girl named Tammy. They don’t seem to realize that Tammy (who is now 7) has problems. The last time she came for a visit, she tormented our cat, secretly fed our dog food that caused an emergency room visit, and broke several expensive pieces of my boyfriend’s heirloom dinnerware left to him by his dead parents.
Ted and Bob have begun hinting that they want to take a trip by themselves. I expect that the next time we see each other, they’ll ask us to care for Tammy while they’re on vacation.
I can’t think of anything worse. My boyfriend wants to tell them that we hate Tammy, and never would consider watching her. I think that’s a bit harsh (though perhaps true).
What should I say when they ask? Also, should I mention that I think the brat needs medication?
Tell Ted and Bobby that you don’t feel comfortable with a responsibility as sacred as protecting their lovely offspring. Try not to use the word “hate.” Hide the expensive, inherited china when the devil-child comes to visit.
Don’t suggest psychiatric meds unless it’s in context of your concern about her discomfort (as opposed to her behavior problems). This means saying something like, “Poor Tammy seems to be suffering, and maybe she could be helped by a medication that could alleviate her anxiety,” instead of suggesting enlisting the help of an exorcist and a mammoth dose of Ritalin.
© 2008 Meryl Cohn. Address questions and correspondence to email@example.com. 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.