Dear Ms Behavior:
My girlfriend, Laura, is introverted to a degree that might seem freaky to others. Sometimes, when she is overwhelmed, she clams up, turns on the TV, and curls up for several hours. She doesn’t speak or engage. This happens when we fight, but also when she’s upset over small things. She just shuts down.
I am an extrovert, as are all the members of my family. We have a family visit planned next month. My parents and three of my chatty siblings will be coming to see us. Everyone has met Laura, but we haven’t spent a weekend together.
I’m worried that the visit will be stressful for Laura, and that she’ll pull one of her inside-the-turtle-shell episodes in front of them. I don’t mind that it’s her coping mechanism when we’re alone, but I’m embarrassed when she does it in front of other people. I know that my family will judge her/us.
So, would I be a controlling bitch if I asked Laura not to clam up or hide while the family is visiting? Or should I back off, and not worry about what my family thinks?
—Married To The Reptile
Dear Married To The Reptile:
It’s understandable that you want to save your girlfriend (and yourself) from your family’s judgment, but you probably can’t control everyone’s experience.
If Laura needs to go hide in the bedroom (or the broom closet), let her do it. If she slips away quietly, your family may not even notice. People on vacation often slip off to take naps or read books. As long as your family doesn’t see her curled in the fetal position under the dining room table, it should be fine.
Sometimes, when people recede into their shells, it’s protective. Hiding takes the pressure off. Disappearing may help Laura to defend against having a true meltdown—which really would give your family something to talk about.
Ms. Behavior suspects that the real issue here may be your need for your family’s approval.
Why are you so invested in their opinion? Why not align yourself with Laura, instead of your critical family?
Dear Ms. Behavior:
When I was “straight,” and married to a woman, I was a lousy husband and father. I drank. I went out all the time. I was basically a jerk. This fact continues to plague me with guilt and regret.
I have a boyfriend now, and I’m a much happier person. Rick and I have been together for three years. He’s a nice guy who has no bad feelings about my previous life. In fact, he has suggested that I contact my ex-wife to apologize to her for everything I did wrong.
When I last saw Gina (several years ago), she threw the contents of the kitchen cabinets at my head. But now, time has passed. More recently, our kids have kept me apprised of her well-being and new marriage. It sounds like she’s in a good place.
So, I need some advice.
First of all, is it selfish to try to arrange a rapprochement with someone you’ve wronged? Or is it a good thing to do—and am I just looking for an excuse to avoid this difficult reunion (as Rick suspects)? What do you think?
Dear Sorry Ex-Spouse:
If you are truly sorry for your past behavior, and want to make amends to your ex, apologize to her on her terms. If you’re taking responsibility for being inconsiderate, don’t dump your guilt on Gina, or make it all about you.
Simply send her an e-mail asking if she’s willing to get together, so that you can apologize to her. If she is not ready right now, respect her wishes.
You can make amends by changing your behavior. Send her lots of white light and love. Say nice things about her in public. Don’t wear chaps when you pick up the kids at her house.
If she’s willing to hear you out, make sure to focus on your own behavior. Chances are good that you were even worse than you remember, so make sure you give her a chance to express her feelings, which may be difficult to hear.
© 2009 Meryl Cohn. 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.