Dear Carolyn: I can’t stand my best friend’s boyfriend. He’s passive-aggressive and is always making snarky, spiteful comments. It’s common for him to join activities in which he has no interest, and then disparage anyone or anything involved. And rather than express his feelings honestly, he keeps them bottled up until he explodes in a fit of snarkiness.
I love my friend but I’m running out of excuses for not hanging out with him. What should I do? Tell him I can’t stand his boyfriend and risk losing a friend I value, or accept that the price of admission to the friendship is putting up with his soul-sucking boyfriend?
– Best Friend
A: It might help to recognize that your letter is a snarkless version of the bottle-bottle-explode tactic the boyfriend uses.
When he disparages someone or something, he hands you an opportunity to say, “I’m sorry to hear that; I’m having a great time.” Or, “Why’d you come, then?” Or just, “(Shrug.) Your loss.” Right? Your words, of course – but as long as you’re dukes-down and not fighting snark with snark, these are opportunities to express your feelings not just honestly, but also to the source.
Instead, the options you suggest amount to rolling your many grievances against the boyfriend into one I-can’t-stand-him confrontation with your best friend, or continuing to bottle it up.
Your calling out the poor sportsmanship – again, without snotty inflection – might move your friend to start the conversation anyway, and that’s OK. Even if he’s defensive, keep “He’s a soul-sucking, spiteful, passive-aggressive joy vampire” between us, and stick to “I think it’s fair for me to respond to his comments” or “How do you feel when he says (latest example here)?”
Your behavior change, though, in limit-setting versus avoidance and excuses, might on its own spur a behavior change in the boyfriend, your friend or both. And regardless, you’ll have done something. Isn’t that what you want?
No polite way to say ‘shut up’
Dear Carolyn: I have a relative who, after the courtesies, will talk nonstop about how great they are doing, never stopping to ask about others. Is there a polite way to ask them to shut up and express an interest in someone else’s life?
A: Sadly, there’s no polite way to say shut your pie hole/you bore me to tears/have you heard of this wacky invention called punctuation? There’s only sympathy for a person who is, most likely, so lonely as to have lost the feel for the give-and-take of a conversation, and so insecure as to need self-promotion. Other possible explanations – egomania, unacknowledged hearing loss – are likewise intractable and deserving of our forbearance.