Carolyn Hax: After taking offense at roommate’s comments, don’t be defensive

Carolyn Hax
Columnist December 14, 2013

Hi, Carolyn: My best friend, who is also my roommate, sometimes makes comments to me such as, “You act so different around X group of friends,” even though there have been hardly a handful of times when we have all been in one room.

I have no idea what change in behavior she is referring to, but these comments really get to me. Whether they are true or not, I believe they are really petty and a reflection of her own personal crap she has going on. What are some ways I can respond? — L.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

You can respond humbly and open-mindedly, in a way that befits a “best” friendship, and without the acute defensiveness on display in your letter.

Maybe: “Huh — I’m not aware of any differences. What do you mean?” Or, “Do you have examples to help me understand?” Or even, “You know me so well — if you see something, that’s important.”


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

A “handful of times” is no small sample for her to work with, and “a reflection of her own personal crap” is no small accusation. Please put more value in the friendship right now than you do your ego, and have the courage to follow up on her comments with a wide-open mind.

* * *

Dear Carolyn: I’d love to get your opinion on a topic that frustrates me a bit: kid dominance. For instance, a friend who recently gave birth was talking sheep about another girlfriend for having failed to acknowledge the birth of her child, and for having the audacity to invite her to a work event. Her words: “No one cares about her job, I mean, I just had a baby.”

As a woman who is not planning on having kids, this stung. My career apparently means nothing to my friend. Likely she was just hurt and hormonal, but do some parents really feel this way?

I’ve seen child-free folks called causes of social decay, selfish, non-adult and so forth. I would think that child abusers are those things, not those of us who opt out. By not having kids, I’m actually creating less competition for my friends’ little ones. So what gives with the harsh judgment? Jealousy? Exhaustion? An inability to perceive that other people might have equally valid life choices? Sometimes, I just want to scream “My reproductive choices are none of your business, just as yours aren’t any of mine.”

I’m not even looking for a way to stop the intrusions and the insensitive comments, because I know they won’t ever really go away. My current theory is that parents sign up for this change that dominates their entire life, and feel so much pressure that when they see glimpses of their former life embodied in friends without kids, they instinctively protect their choice over the freedom of not having dependents. I.e., their life is purposeful but tough, so mine is clearly easy and meaningless. — My Life Has Meaning, Thanks

It could be that. It could also be that your friend is just a clod.

I’ve seen people with kids called causes of planetary decay, selfish, irresponsible, “and so forth.” The contempt cuts both ways.

Actually, all ways: While raising kids forces more intense immersion in that life than most other choices do, I think if you step back a bit you’ll see that around every big, life-guiding choice there is a community of self-justification. You’ll see marrieds scoffing at singles and singles scoffing at marrieds; you’ll see conservatives scoffing at liberals and liberals scoffing at conservatives; you’ll see capitalists scoffing at wage-earners scoffing at the needy scoffing at capitalists, who all scoff at creatives, who scoff right back.

You’re absolutely right that the insensitive comments won’t go away. However, I think you’ll see their volume plummet when you make a conscious decision to save most of your social time for people who are comfortable with themselves and their choices. They tend to live and let live.

* * *

Dear Carolyn: My son, nieces, and other relatives, all of whom are college-educated, regularly begin a sentence with “Me ’n her” or “Me ’n him” rather than the grammatically correct “She and I” or “He and I.” They are all wonderful people, but they sound ignorant. Should I correct them? If so, how? I don’t want to come across as a nag. At the same time, I do feel that their poor grammar reflects negatively on them personally and professionally. — D.

Unless they’re really close or really young, you say nothing.

Among adults who are close, there’s a third option between correcting and not correcting: Talking. “I’ve wrestled with this lately,” you say. “When someone makes a blatant grammatical error, is it better to correct the person or shut up? I’d want you to correct me (right?), but flipping that around feels obnoxious.”

For what it’s worth — look up “code-switching,” too. They may toe the grammatical line when their reputations are at stake.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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