Carolyn Hax: Fighting snark with tact; a fast-track relationship

Carolyn Hax
Columnist January 15, 2013

Hi, 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.

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

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

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 okay. 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 vs. 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?

Dear Carolyn:

My sister was married 41 years, and her cheating husband died of lung cancer four months ago. She stayed and took good care till the end.

Three months after he died, his high school best friend (my sister’s first love) came to see her and now they are engaged. She wants to get married yesterday.

I’ve been asking her to wait, slow down, etc. What can I say to persuade her to give it some time?

S.

It’s easy to understand your concern, but it’s hard to summon motivation to find ways to interfere with a grown woman who is living her life as she sees fit.

It’s also easy to see how the promise of a little joy is more persuasive to her than your implied forecast of doom. Your opening sentence speaks unhappy volumes.

While your impulse to warn is natural, you’ll be more credible to her if you acknowledge her view: “I’m so happy you’re happy,” or, “You deserve some joy,” or, now, “I should have said this upfront: Congratulations.”

After you’ve shown that you understand, you’ll make more sense to her when you say, “This sure does look wonderful, and in a year or so you’ll know whether it is” — that is, if you choose to say it. Choosing not to heed you doesn’t mean she didn’t hear.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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