AdviceHelp Me Rhonda

Help Me, Rhonda

Trash Talk

Any advice for dealing with aggressively mean people? I recently had a falling out with someone. Now, if ever we’re in the same place at the same time (something I try to avoid), much shit-talking at amplified levels occurs for one and all to hear. Add alcohol to the mix, and it’s even worse. Life’s hard enough without petty drama. I wish I didn’t feel the need to cede parts of town to someone on the off chance that they might show up and act like a jerk. My friends tell me to ignore her because she feeds off my reactions, but it’s hard in the moment to not get hurt feelings.

Feels Like High School

Let’s get one thing out of the way so we can move on to the opportunities this girl is giving you. In or leading up to the falling out, did you say or do anything ugly? Anything that warrants an apology? If you owe this girl an apology—not because she’s nice or reasonable, but so your conscience and record are completely clear—you need to give it to her. This apology is not an attempt at reconciliation (because she has revealed herself to be someone you don’t want to be reconciled with), it’s strictly factual: I said or did something wrong/hurtful/insensitive, and I’m sorry for it. End of conversation. She will try to engage you in some angry nonsense, but you have only two lines. I did this and I’m sorry.

Once that is done, you take the high road. By taking this very public, very low road, this girl is giving you an opportunity to look exceedingly mature and compassionate and reasonable.

I suggest you act as if she’s truly invisible. Don’t look at her, but don’t look away. Whenever this trash-talking occurs, act as if you truly don’t hear it. Don’t change your facial expression. Practice or envision doing this ahead of time, because it won’t be natural at first. Don’t gossip about her or complain about her bad behavior with your friends. It might help if you keep in mind that all of the things she’s saying and doing aren’t any kind of meaningful reflection on you; they’re coming from her hurt and insecurity. It’s hard not to feel a little sadness for her. Happy, secure, fulfilled people do not behave like this. 

Your friends are right; she does feed off your reactions. But she also feeds off the attention of other people. As they come to realize that she’s the only one fighting this battle, they’ll begin to view her as unreasonable, and she won’t have an audience.

Here’s the other opportunity this girl is giving you: the opportunity to decide who is going to dictate the terms of your own life and your own feelings. Throughout your life, there will be people who don’t like you. And that’s fine. More than fine, it’s inconsequential. I would not let those people interfere with going where you want to go, doing what you want to do and spending time with your friends. There will always be more people who do like you.

Bigoted In-Laws

I just met my fiancé’s family for the first time. We’ve been together for two and a half years, and it seems he has kept them away for good reason: they are all very closed minded and homophobic. I have two gay brothers who are both married to great guys. My in-laws think they will burn in hell for their “choice,” and they aren’t afraid to tell me that. I know I should have nipped this in the bud at the first “Well, San Francisco is a great town, except for the gays” comment, but I was honestly too shocked to say anything. My fiancé is absolutely not like them, and he loves my brothers and their husbands. How do we make it clear that we will not tolerate this type of talk in general, let alone at our wedding or around our future children?

Isn’t it a great triumph of humanity, goodness and education that someone (like your fiancé) can grow up surrounded by such ugly ideas and see clearly enough to reject them?

There’s only one way for you and your fiancé to handle this that has some potential for stopping their hate speech (at least around the two of you) without destroying your marriage. You have to be a united front. Your in-laws will become defensive when you and your fiancé tell them that you can’t be around this kind of talk, and they will try to pit the two of you against each other. In their minds, the story will become, “Our son never cared about this kind of thing, but his wife says we can’t say what we want in our own home.” It needs to be unmistakable that the message is coming from both of you. This will be good practice for the rest of your marriage.

Now, here’s the message: We cannot and will not be around this speech. You’re not dictating what your in-laws say or think. You’re not telling them that their ideas are hateful, ugly and misinformed (although, of course, they are). You and your fiancé are making it clear what you yourselves will do. If your in-laws speak this way while you’re at their house, you will leave. If they talk this way at your wedding or house or around your future children, you’ll ask your in-laws to leave. You will consistently (and dispassionately, which will be difficult) remove yourself from the situation whenever it occurs.

Clean Up Or Clear Out?

I moved in with my cousin and his girlfriend a few months ago. Their relationship is annoying. I’m realizing he is quite insecure and thus jealous and controlling. She seems to be at his every beck and call. I’ve been able to separate myself from their drama for the most part until recently, when he complained I didn’t do my share of the cleaning. 

This was surprising coming from him, because I’ve never seen him touch the broom, mop, Clorox or trash. I’ve seen him wash dishes a few times and that’s it. She seems to do all of the cleaning. It’s like a two-thirds/one-third ratio. He complained I wasn’t doing my one-third. On the contrary I believe I do my fair share. I take the trash out when it’s time, I do my dishes (not anyone else’s—should I do anyone else’s dishes?), if I make a mess I clean it, I don’t leave things lying around, I’ve cleaned the bathroom twice within the three months I’ve lived here and I’ve swept the kitchen and living area twice also. 

He claims I’m self-absorbed. He also claims he controls everything in this house (but he stays in his room and plays computer games all day?) I told him I would be more conscious of his space, but I ain’t doing his damn dishes. I asked his girlfriend her opinion on my cleaning habits, and she didn’t seem to have too much of a problem with them. Am I self-absorbed?

Mr. Cleans-Enough

I have a question for you: Are you paying one-third of the rent and utilities? If so, I’d say you are doing exactly the right amount of housework—doing your own dishes, cleaning up after yourself and sometimes cleaning shared spaces. People who live with family or friends rent-free or at greatly reduced rates have to do a little more housework. If that’s you, then you need to do a little more than one-third of the housework to be a considerate and appreciative guest. But, really, just a little more, not all of it. 

You said that your cousin’s relationship with his girlfriend is annoying, but I don’t think that’s the case. It’s your cousin himself who seems to be annoying. From your description, I’d say you are doing enough housework and you are not self-absorbed. If that knowledge is enough to let you live peacefully, then you’re all set. But the cousin you describe is not someone I’d want to come home to. If you have other options, I’d suggest exploring them quietly, in case this is a demonstration of your cousin’s best behavior.

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