Carolyn Hax: Don’t let insecurity force you to play along


(Nick Galifianakis/ for The Washington Post)
Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 17

Dear Carolyn:

My husband’s family likes to play games like ping-pong, bean-bag toss or cards. I am not a real fan of games; I get incredibly self-conscious, and I am not very good at most of them. Several of his family members are very competitive, and the pressure to play well doesn’t help.

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

My husband is pretty good at playing when he feels like it and saying no when he doesn’t feel like it. But whenever I try to bow out, his aunts or other family members will convince me to play. I just don’t like games, but I do like chatting with people while they play.

We are all getting together soon, and I would appreciate some guidance on how to either get the game-players off my back or learn to relax and just play.

Non-Game-Player

The answer is embedded in your husband’s ease: He knows he belongs, so he feels free to respond based only on what he wants.

You’re not confident that you belong, so you’re responding from an insecure mix of what you want and what you think his family wants of you.

No means no, of course, even with ping-pong among the aunties. However, people who are as boundary-challenged as this family appears to be will press harder, not back off, when there’s insecurity in the water.

So the secret to resisting this pressure is to remind yourself that you’re “in.” You are family, whether they like you or not, and if they don’t, it’s their problem. That’s the platform on which you can say “no” like you mean it — or “yes” like you don’t care if you launch ping-pong balls into the hedge. It takes time, but it’ll come if you embrace it.

At its heart it’s a defiant position to take, which seems right here, but angry defiance would be tone-deaf. You want light, family-friendly defiance, where you label your absentee self a Confirmed Spectator or Sideline Specialist or Conscientious Rejector — or you join in by asking, “Okay, which team wants to lose?” Own it, own it and smile.

Dear Carolyn:

Years ago, I had a close friend in college. We were both devout in our religion. Since then we have had little contact, but enough to allow me to tell him that I am no longer of that religious mind-set. I saw no purpose in telling him I have actually grown quite hostile to institutional religion in general and specifically to his (and my former) church.

Now he is about to be ordained and wants me to attend this ceremony. I want to support my friend, but it would make me extremely uncomfortable and be the height of hypocrisy to attend. Should I just politely beg off and risk his thinking I do not care, or tell him the truth and cause him a different kind of distress?

Between a Rock and a Church

In your place, I’d try to see attending as support not for a church but for a friend — and for tolerance.

If your conscience won’t buy that: Presumably you’d miss it without any qualms if you had a prior commitment for ordination day. So, decline on the grounds of a prior commitment. That it’s a commitment to both your integrity and friendship needn’t be said out loud.

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

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