by Amy Alkon
Q: My fiancé is good friends with his ex-girlfriend from college. (We’re all in our 30s.) She isn’t a romantic threat, but she’s become a source of stress. Long before I met my boyfriend, they began hanging out at a local bar together twice a week. They still do this, and I go along, but I’ve increasingly found these evenings a draining time-suck. When I don’t want to go, my fiancé hangs at home with me. This prompts a tantrum from his ex-girlfriend, complete with a barrage of angry texts. I’ve tried reasoning with her, but she claims that when he was single, he “dragged (her) out constantly” so he still owes her. My boyfriend is a laid-back, non-confrontational kind of guy and just says she needs to calm down.—No Wonder They Broke Up
A: They’ve translated the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it turns out they’re actually a 900-page list of everything this “friend” has ever done for your fiancé.
OK, when he was single, maybe he “dragged (her) out constantly.” Unless he did this by unchaining her from the wall and yanking her to the bar on a choke collar, it was up to her to decline. Gotta love the notion that her companionship led to some unwritten indentured “frienditude” contract that he still owes big on. (One person’s friendship is another’s mob extortion scheme.)
It’s your fiancé’s job to be “reasoning” with his friend, not yours. (You’re marrying the guy, not adopting him and trying to get him into a good preschool.) You excuse his passivity by describing him as a “laid-back, non-confrontational kind of guy.” Well, there’s laid-back, and there’s confusing onlookers as to whether you’re a person or a paperweight.
The thing is, whether somebody gets to abuse you is usually up to you. In other words, your fiancé needs to grow a pair (or at least crochet a pair and pop ’em in) and then get on the phone. Tell him that he needs to tell this woman—calmly and firmly—something like, “You know, lovey, I’ve got a fiancé now, and I can’t be as available as I used to be.” He needs to shut down the abusive text storm the same way, telling her, “Not acceptable. Cut it out,” and then block her number if she keeps up the telephone thuggery.
Sure, it’s uncomfortable standing up to a person who’s been treating you badly—an uncomfortable and necessary part of adult life. It’s how you send the message, “Nuh-uh … no more” instead of “Forever your tool.” And here’s a tip: You don’t need to feel all cuddly and good about confronting somebody; you just need to do it, as opposed to cowering in fear as the Bing! Bing! Bings! of their texted multi-part tantrum come in on your phone. Start encouraging assertiveness in your fiancé now, and keep letting him know how much you admire all the steps he takes. He could soon be a man who’s got your back when there’s trouble—and not just in the corner of his eye as he curls up in a fetal position and whimpers, “Donnnn’t hurrrrt meeee!”
Q: I’ve started seeing this wonderful guy. There’s no official commitment yet, but I have no interest in anyone else, including the two guys I was casually seeing from time to time. When they text me to try to hook up, I won’t respond or I’ll say I’m busy, but they don’t seem to be getting the message. Admittedly, in the past, I’ve said “no more” and then caved when I’ve gotten lonely or had a few glasses of wine. Also, how do you say “beat it” without being mean?—Go Away Already!
A: There’s little that tempers a man’s enthusiasm for a late-night shag like responding to his “want 2 hook up?” by texting back, “YES! I’m ovulating & dying 2 have a baby!”
But it shouldn’t have to come to this—that is, if you start by actually saying “no” instead of starting a game of “Guess why I’m not returning your texts?!” An ambiguous “no”—not responding or saying, “I’m busy”—is not a “no.” This is especially true of your ambiguous “no,” which, in the past, has translated to, “I’m not drunk/lonely enough. Try me later.” Because of this, you may need to repeat even a firm, “I’m no longer interested” a few times for these guys to get that you aren’t just confused about what you want, or playing hard to get. But in general, the nonevasive “no” eliminates the need to make your point repeatedly, in turn curbing the likelihood of your getting mean on the phone (or, worse, hiding under the bed when you hear the ladder being leaned against your upstairs window).