Hi Captain Awkward,
I have been meaning to write you for a long time. I had a really long dilemma that turned into a really short dilemma over the last weekend. Basically, husband and I were friends with a couple (I’ll call them Marjorie and Lance) who were completely stressing us out. The abridged list of the issues includes: demanding/using, boundary-crossing, super clingy and needy, always mired in self-created chaos, on the brink of financial ruin, manipulative, jealous, competitive, kind-sharking and trying to make others responsible for their emotions. I’ve been trying to do a slow fade over the last six months, but my efforts at distancing myself were having the opposite effect on Marjorie, whose behavior started escalating into stalker-type stuff.
I love the name you chose. Playdate of Thrones! So apt!
First, congratulations on using your words to stop the Marjorie Debacle. Also, you sound like a great mom! I hope the kids and your husband give you awesome Mother’s Day attentions. You love your kids, and you don’t want your personal likes and dislikes to mess with their groove. I get that. But you also want to minimize your exposure to Marjorie. I don’t think you can cut down exposure any further, but I think you can control the tenor of those required meetings. Before we get there, let’s take a rhetorical-question stroll:
1 – Must you always be friends with the parents of your daughters’ friends?
In my humble opinion and experience, HELLS NO. You must be kind and in contact with them, but that doesn’t mean that you are automatically friends. You are a full human with wants and desires and preferences that are separate from those of your daughters. Friends are a choice, not an imposition. Imagine this the other way: what if you made friends with a woman whose children your children detested? I’m sure you would hope the children would get along and be polite when they were required to be together, but you wouldn’t expect them to like each other if they didn’t, right?
2 – What are your professional relationships like?
If you’re working with people now, or have worked with them in the past, perhaps you noticed that you don’t have to be friends with your co-workers. You have to be polite, kind, and maybe friendly, but no one should expect you to be automatic besties just because you’re working on the same project and grab a working lunch once in a while.
And a rhetorical point: Being friendly and warm to someone does not make us friends.
SO! my strategies for dealing with Marjorie on a cordial but distant basis is two-fold. Pretend that you two work for the company OurKidsAreAwesome Inc. Your two projects for the company are currently overlapping, so you will be interacting from time to time to make sure that nothing goes seriously awry. You don’t have to know about her home life, she doesn’t need to hear the family gossip, all you two need to do is relay the information needed to make the interactions of your projects go smoothly. The second fold is to invest in some engrossing books, so that when you are required to be in close contact with Marjorie, you can say “This is my downtime for today, and I’d like to get some reading in. Thanks!”
Limit playdates to a level that works for YOU (holy unexpected babysitting, Batman!) rather than the one that works for your kids (who will see their friends at school and events anyway), and when you have to see M&L around town, treat them like parents you don’t know well: cordial, polite, but distant. If they are imposing on you in your home or at the park, create distance as you would with someone you don’t know well. Have a thing on hand to be busy with. It’s not rude on your part to be involved in something else that it is rude to interrupt. If they corner you at a birthday party or something where you CANNOT get away, disengage with them and go talk to another parent. Do you have other people in that parent group that you can talk to? Use them as your go-to.
I’ll get into some useful phrases to say in a sec, but I also want to briefly address the “my husband hates Lance so he can’t help me shoulder this” thing: Malarky. Big steaming heaps of MALARKY. He is your partner on Team Family, and has to encounter Marjorie and Lance too, by your own admission. He doesn’t have to pretend to be friends with them, just like you don’t, but he will have to be professionally polite, just like you, and possibly be uncomfortable for the sake of Project Kids. That’s just sense.
NOW! Useful phrases for you and husband!
Out and About:
- “We’ve got plans, but thank you!”
- “You know, plans. With the family.” (silent: “to do exactly nothing” (Or hey! “hot boning my husband plans” no one will know your silent plans!))
- “I’d rather not, thank you.”
- “That’s pretty personal, why don’t we talk about something else?”
- “I hope everything’s going well.”
- “[Child] asked if [other child] could come over [date]. Would she like to?”
- “I have to go [something], so I’ll see you around.”
- “I’m on a tight schedule today, so I’ve got to go!”
- “I need to go ask [other parent] about a thing, please excuse me!”
- “I haven’t seen [other parent] for a long time! Please excuse me.”
Trapped in the Park or at Home:
- “This is my downtime today, so I’d like to read quietly.”
- “I have to run an errand, can you hold down the fort?” (the errand can be walking all the way around the block three times)
- “I’ve got everything under control, why don’t you take some time for yourself?”
When things get Weird (i.e. the hopefully non-inevitable “YOU HATE ME!” meltdown):
- “I’m not sure why you/he/she would say/think that, but okay.”
- “I’d like us to be in touch for the kids, but I already have a lot of social obligations/friends/family/etc.”
- “I’m sorry I’ve given you that impression, but what I really feel is [what you feel].”
Keep your tone level, engage the expectant silence when necessary, and enforce the everloving shit out of your boundaries with this couple.
And know that I know that feel, broette. And so does the rest of that town.