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Don’t punish friend for his wife’s act

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. – 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 and 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?

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