Hi, Carolyn: I was recently out to dinner to celebrate with a close friend who has been treated for breast cancer and has received a clean bill of health. She included her live-in boyfriend in the celebration.
I noticed he was bumping my leg. I simply moved out of way the first and second times. After the third bump, I realized he was intentionally rubbing my leg. I had to move about five times.
I have socialized with the two of them on many occasions and frankly do not have a good impression of him in general. I believe my friend deserves better, but have kept my mouth shut because it’s not up to me to comment on her choice of a partner. If it works for her, then I respect that.
But his behavior with me at dinner was personal and therefore has crossed a line with me. I want to tell my friend what happened, but not after she’s gone through such a traumatic experience. But I feel keeping silent is a tacit way of protecting him. Should I tell my friend what happened? – J.
“Please stop rubbing my leg.”
That’s what you say. Out loud, at the table, in front of your friend.
No time travel necessary; if he’s as bad as you say, then he’ll do this or something like it again next time you see them.
The beauty is that “Please stop rubbing my leg” bypasses the whole mental back and forth about your responsibility with respect to your friend’s choices – because “Please stop rubbing my leg” is about your body right now, that’s it, and is entirely your responsibility.
You also don’t “have to move about five times” to help conceal anyone’s bad behavior, for anyone. Your friend beat cancer; she’ll manage this.
If he responds by feigning ignorance or blaming you, then you stand your ground quietly, calmly and without apology. “Say what you will. I just want you to stop rubbing my leg.” Simply leaving also makes a powerful statement.
It just so happens that doing what you need for you will give your friend all the information she needs to make her own decisions – but that’s the bonus, not the point.
Dear Carolyn: When I married my wife, 20-plus years ago, I was fairly extroverted, and she was very much an introvert. I knew and accepted that. She had college friends, but I’ve never met them. We see her parents every couple of years. I make sure to give her space and alone time as much as she wants.
In the time we’ve been married, I’ve become a lot more introverted, and I’m OK with that. I’ve been either work-from-home or self-employed for 18 years, so I have no work friends. All my other friends have dropped away. My family lives close by, and I see them at holidays and family events, but no more than I have to. I like this a lot, as I find it stressful to try to keep up with their lives.
The problem is that my wife seems annoyed by my introversion. She tells me I should see my friends more often (without her), when she doesn’t have any. She urges me to see my family, but never talks to her own. I’ve asked her why this is a problem for her and whether I’m smothering her. She just says she thinks I should get out more. She’s also said she likes being alone in the house, so maybe my being in the other room or on another floor, doing my own thing, isn’t far enough away for her. Am I doing something wrong? – Introverted Extrovert
Yes: You’re not leaving the house.
Of course that’s not “wrong” – it’s your house, too.
But your very much introverted wife likes to be alone in it sometimes, and married you thinking she would be.
That’s it. Take it exactly at face value.
And, take it outside. Could be your wife sees two needs to be met here: for her to have more alone time and for you to have less. You didn’t ask my opinion on this, and I also believe there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to socialize as long people are comfortable with it, so I won’t belabor the point – but what you describe isn’t introversion, it’s reclusion.
It also seems as if your wife chose it, but you let it be chosen for you, through her influence and your inaction.
So while my advice stands to take your wife at her word, consider doing it in a way that gently interrupts your passive slide into solitude. Try a movie, a bookstore, a lecture, a coffee shop – public places you can engage with people fully or not at all, based on how you’re feeling that day. You might free two birds with one stone.
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