Dear Carolyn: My mother has gotten very good at getting information and causing trouble with people through social media. She has found which husband would cheat. She has found which teenage son or daughter uses drugs or has homosexual tendencies, by opening accounts and passing as a teenager, vixen, housewife, successful business owner and even a teenage girl who started rumors about a boy's sexuality. She went as far as passing herself as a male baseball fan to become good friends (on social media) with my brother's best friend so she could find out whether they were just friends or in a sexual relationship. She has asked some of her friends to call my husband to flirt with him to see if he is faithful.
We had an argument about her getting involved in people's lives. And she said, "Please, don't start trying to be more moral or kind than everyone else." Then she said, "You wouldn't want someone to start a rumor about your son using drugs or having serious psychological problems." My son is in college and uses social media.
I've tried to warn some friends and family of this, but everyone dismisses it or says it's their fault for letting someone influence them on social media. I'm concerned she has already befriended my son's friends online. Should I take it lightly?
— Spy or Just Evil
Spy or Just Evil: Your mother is a shockingly terrible person.
I’m sure there are ways for me to hedge this opinion or present it to you gently, but by your account, your mother stands naked and unapologetic in her evil, so the only thing that feels appropriate is to call it out in kind.
As her child, your position here is complicated at best. Depending on when she got this way and how it affected you, therapy might be useful — or essential.
But there is no place for taking anything lightly. Your primary choice is whether, with certainty in hand (I assume) of your mother’s evil, you have anything to do with her ever again.
Isolation is the just desert of anyone who takes pleasure in causing pain.
If her exploits represent a recent and uncharacteristic turn for the nasty, then you can pursue this as a conversation about her deteriorating mental health and ways you can get her the help she needs.
But if her position all along has been that everyone is hateful, vicious trash and therefore anyone attempting to be moral or kind is a poseur worthy of her scorn, then you — all of you — are long overdue to attach consequences to her little hobby of wrecking lives for sport. Sound the klaxon to warn everyone about her, then get off her sinking ship. Let her rumors drift into a void.
Dear Carolyn: A few years ago, my husband and I met a couple at a local festival. We typically see them a few times each month for dinner outings. For the past four months now, every time we see them, the wife mentions her upcoming milestone birthday and their wedding anniversary. She wants to celebrate both with a river cruise in Europe, but they will only go on the trip if we also commit to going with them. We would have to pay for our share.
She has become increasingly insistent and talks about it nonstop. We do not want to travel with them and feel they should celebrate these upcoming milestones on their own. We have tried to politely deflect and indirectly decline to her each time, but we are at a loss. How do you suggest we make her realize this?
— Tired of Deflecting
Tired of Deflecting: Everyone who just read this is now tired of deflecting, too.
For the love of schnitzel, please, just say no. Decline directly. There is no courtesy quite as generous as a straight answer: “Thank you for the invitation, but we’re going to pass on the Europe trip.” Ahhh. “We know how much this means to you,” obviously, “so we’d love to celebrate with you some other way.”
With that off my chest, can we take a moment to parse, “We . . . feel they should celebrate these upcoming milestones on their own”? If you don’t want to travel with them, then that is so completely your prerogative that I can’t understand why you haven’t just said no already. But how they “should” celebrate is so completely NOT your prerogative that I just lapsed into italics, statement-y quotation marks AND all-caps all in one sentence to get my exasperation across.
Decline the invitation, fine, but don’t judge it.
Their not going if you won’t go doesn’t make it your fault if they stay home. It was their decision to make this trip conditional, so they’d be responsible for not going.
For the future, a primer for functional friendships: What they do is their business. What you do is your business. Draw a mental line down the middle, then stay on your side of the line.