Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared on October 26, 29 and 31, 2003.
Dear Carolyn: Recently began an invigorating flirtation with a woman at work — movies, jogging after work, dinner at home, etc. Last week she told me she’d been involved in an extended affair with a married man three or four years earlier. She was also living with another man at the time. The news came as a huge disappointment, and I’m wondering how much importance to attach to her history of lengthy deception.
Dear Portland: I think there’s a risk of your blowing this out of proportion, so I’ll be conservative and put its importance somewhere between “staggering” and “colossal.”
Integrity isn’t just a four-syllable word. If this woman doesn’t have it, the jogging better be awfully good.
Note the flagrant use of “if.” I could argue that her long-term deceptions guarantee she’s integrity-starved, but that would deny her the opportunity almost every one of us wants out of life at least once: to be able to make a godawful mistake, to have an epiphany as a result, and to be accepted ever after for both the epiphany and the mistake, and not merely for the mistake.
So about that epiphany. Did she have one? Specifically, did she treat her behavior with the appropriate dose of self-loathing, and is she living proof that it worked? It isn’t too early to tell; just recall what else she said when she delivered the news of her ugly behavior. Context speaks louder than words.
Dear Carolyn: I’m in a long-distance relationship with someone younger and still in school. I know I want to spend the rest of my life with this person, but I worry I am a crutch keeping them from getting to the same point in maturity and independence that I am at now. How can I stop enabling dependence without potentially harming our relationship?
Dear Far Away: Be willing to harm the relationship. Sounds callous, but look at it this way and it’s the only unselfish course: Which is better, to want what’s best for each other at the possible expense of your relationship, or to want the relationship at the possible expense of each other?
If you believe your student belovedness isn’t ready for long-term commitment, end the commitment. I know some will cry condescension since it appears you’re deciding unilaterally what’s best for your younger, less-mature partner. And that’s a fair accusation.
But you’re really deciding how to look out for yourself. Either you’re comfortable with this person’s maturity and independence, or you think s/he has a way to go. Either you think staying together is healthy, or you think freedom will be. Either this person makes you happy as-is, or it’s better, for you, to stay in touch but see other people. Just be honest in how you word that: “I want you to choose me after you’ve lived more of life.”
Carolyn: I have a group of four friends I’ve been with since I was 18 (I’m now 24), and one friend has stopped maturing somewhere along the way. Her constant high school behavior usually leaves the other three of us constantly complaining about her to one another. Is there any way to approach this situation without its seeming like we are attacking her three-on-one?
Dear Burbs: Right, can’t stand that high school behavior.
You’re already attacking her three-on-one, just behind her back. The fair, and decent, and adult way to treat her is to attack her one-on-one, to her face. With “attack” being shorthand for raising calm, specific, well-thought-out objections to her behavior, with explicit examples, and then hearing her side of the story. And then steering the friendship accordingly.
Carolyn: I recently started a relationship with a woman who seemed great until her jealous side became visible. While at a group happy hour, every time I talked to a female friend she’d insert some snide comment. We talked about this and she apologized, saying she hadn’t slept much and was cranky. A few weeks later, a couple of my female friends stopped by our table to say hi. She glared at both of them and stormed off to the restroom. She later yelled at me for “hitting on them” in front of her. This is laughable, as both are married and have been platonic friends of mine for years. Is this something she needs to sort out herself or can I help her?
Dear Maryland: Both. Theoretically. It’s her insecurity to sort, but you can help yourself (and her) by implementing the nicest little zero-tolerance policy ever. “These women are my friends. This is the way I interact with my friends. I mean no disrespect, and ask that you please respect my friendships.”
I say theoretically, because this just defines your limits on jealousy. What you also have is a woman either too rude or too childish to stay civil when she’s upset. I doubt you can help her with that.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.