DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother is a member of the Facebook community, where she often goes in search of people from her past. She has found many friends from her childhood, including a man whom she grew up with.
They began talking on Facebook and then moved on to texting over their cellphones. They have become close and have developed a romantic relationship. Since they live in different states, their relationship is mainly over the phone. However, on occasion, they each have driven cross-country to visit the other.
My mother wants my sister and me to be close to this man, so much so that she becomes pushy and almost tries to force it.
My problem is that he is married. Worse yet, his wife is ill and dying. When I finally agreed to meet him, he explained that he still loves his wife, as opposed to being in love with her, and that he refuses to leave her while she needs help, but that he cannot ignore his heart.
How do I respond to their relationship? Do I just accept it even though it makes me feel uncomfortable? Do I refuse to be a part of it?
I’m conflicted because I feel what they are doing is wrong, especially to the man’s wife (I can’t help but picture myself in her position — I would be heartbroken!), but my sister is married and dating another man and it doesn’t bother me. She and her husband have been separated for three years now.
Am I a hypocrite for accepting my sister’s relationship but not my mother’s?
GENTLE READER: Let us rather say that you are doing some selective empathizing. It would be simpler if you took a principled stand, either that married people should never date, or that extenuating circumstances permit it.
Miss Manners would have been prepared for you to argue that you knew your brother-in-law didn’t mind his wife’s activities, but you did not. And while it is likely that the wife of your mother’s friend would mind her husband’s romance, you do not know that — sometimes a dying person wants to know that the spouse will be taken care of.
So it does look a bit as if, in the absence of guidelines, you are simply opposing your mother. That is not to say that your mother is right, nor that you need to befriend her beau now. But you should bear in mind that you may end up related to him.
A technique that many people scorn as cowardly, Miss Manners recommends as useful: hedging. She suggests asking your mother not to force the issue now, but to allow you some time before treating him as one of the family.
Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.
2012, by Judith Martin
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