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Carolyn Hax: Friend refers to her daughter’s partner as her ‘roommate.’ Let it go?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
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Dear Carolyn: My best friend and I talk almost every day. Her adult daughter, to whom I am close, recently came to a memorial service we were all attending and brought her partner, with whom she has been living for three years. Upon their arrival I gave them both a hug.

Her mom then proceeded to question me as to why I hugged her daughter’s “roommate.” She must be totally unaware of her daughter’s romantic relationship with her partner. It has come up more than once since, and since it is not my right to share this information, I have changed the subject or made excuses (“It was a sad occasion,” “I was feeling close to both of them”). What now? How do I not tell her? She won’t let it go.

— California

California: Wait — you’re best friends who talk daily, but you manage not to talk about her daughter with whom you are “close"? Or you do, but somehow don’t mention her partner as one mentions a partner?

This has no bearing on my answer, but it seems weird to scratch my head this hard about something and not mention it.

Anyway.

The struggle you describe is a great example of why pressure tactics work — and why they're so awful in a relationship: You're so busy squirming about what you're going to say and how not to say something wrong that you're unwittingly missing the point.

No, it's worse than that. You're (also unwittingly) buying into the idea that your friend has a valid claim to information that was never her business to know. Pressing you for information is a relationship sleight of hand that has you feeling so uncomfortable that you're deferring to authority she doesn't actually have.

I suspect you will start feeling better about all of this as soon as you take your control back. Again — your hug was never your friend's business. The first time she asked you about it, it was a minor enough transgression that it wasn't worth more than a friendly non-answer. “I felt huggy, I guess?” Translation: Who cares?

But now that she won't drop it, it's time for you to put the responsibility back on her for her own actions. Calmly and kindly as always: “Why do you keep asking me this?”

The best part of phrasing it that way, besides its directness in naming the problem, is that it’s also a rhetorical question unless she’s ready to answer you for real — as in, say the thing out loud she wants to know so badly. If she just blah-blah-blahs you, then you can be more direct — “Seriously. You’re a dog with a bone.” But any form of “Why do you ask?” can also thwart a social interrogation if you want it to — because all you need to do from there is not provide personal information on command, be it about whom you hug or why or whatever else.

If your friend is finally honest with you about why she keeps asking this — “Because I’m starting to connect 2 with 2 about my daughter and this is my oblique way of asking you if you already know the answer is 4″ — then your only possible loving and appropriate answer to her is a different kind of deflection. “I can’t speak to your daughter’s life. This is between the two of you.”

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