Hi Captain Awkward,
At a party over the weekend, I met a woman who was so verbally agressive to me, so insulting and so poisonous, that I still feel a little nauseous today. She’s the girlfriend of someone who I’ll be seeing again and again (he, my boyfriend and I share the same small-world past time), so simply not dealing with her ever again is probably not an option.
Background: We are in our 30s. I met her boyfriend, who’s in his 50s, on a trip that my BF and I went on over the summer. I had precious cigarettes, and when I found out John was a smoker, shared with him the rest of the trip. This was a multi-day wilderness trip, and people get very close, but I wasn’t attracted to him nor flirtatious with him. He got drunk one night and confessed an attraction to me. I don’t drink anymore, and I was kind to him about it and never mentioned it again.
We saw each other again at this party, and he brought his girlfriend, who wasn’t along on the trip. She was drinking a lot, and I soon noticed that she was being pretending to be friendly but being viciously sarcastic with me — mocking my word choice, saying “oh, here she is AGAIN” every time I showed up, accusing me of being a flirt, calling me “Miss Thing” and saying that I was one of those women who thought I was just so special and deserved all the male attention. I was floored, but I was sober, it was a friend’s big birthday and I didn’t want to cause a scene. I had never met the woman, and have no idea why she laid into me like that. It was so extreme and so aggressive. I wasn’t upset at the time, just…floored. My BF told me that when we left, she said “Oh, is she upset?” as he walked out.
I just found out that this friend called my BF today to invite us over for dinner. I’m sure he feels terrible about it — it was so OUT THERE — and I know we’ll see each other again. I just can’t imagine sitting at her table for dinner. My BF thinks I’m overreacting and might pressure me to go, but I really feel icky about it. Still, I’d like John to know that I don’t hold her against him, and possibly even mend fences with her if it’s possible.
Never been up against anything like this — what should I do?
I think your friend came home from that hiking trip and either confessed his attraction to you or had a whole lot of mentionitis. STILL, that is no excuse for that lady’s behavior.
What would be the worst thing that would happen if you just didn’t go to dinner with them? What if you made the decision, right now, that you will run into this guy at Shared Pastime and be friendly and glad to see him, but that you have no obligation to get closer or “mend fences” with his girlfriend?
What if you just didn’t give any explanation beyond “Sorry, can’t make it! See you guys at (shared pastime thing), though.”
And what if you told your boyfriend “Go and have a great time! I’m going to do something else that day.”
And if he tries to pressure you, say “DON’T try to pressure me about this. You go if you want to, but why on earth would I want to spend more time with that lady after the disaster the other night?”
And if your friend tries to persuade you, you can be pretty direct. “I don’t blame you for what happened the other night, but that doesn’t mean I’m anxious to sit down to dinner with someone who spent the night insulting me. Let’s just forget the whole thing, let bygones be bygones, and start fresh the next time we all run into each other at a party.”
Keep this mantra up your sleeve: “Not everyone has to be best friends for us all to have a good time at a party.”
What would be the life consequences to you if you just decided in your head that you don’t like that lady and don’t want to spend any more time with her than is absolutely necessary?
I feel like this whole situation is teetering on the edge of some Geek Social Fallacy, where there is pressure on you to make nice for the sake of group harmony that isn’t actually serving the members of the group (of which you are a key voting member!). And the assumption is that because you are nice and you are a lady that you’ll sit there and smile and smooth everything over and prove that whatever happened the other night wasn’t that bad. That is what Clive and your boyfriend would like you to do. Well, it sucks and you don’t have to do it.
Don’t go to this lady’s house. Don’t eat her food. Make polite excuses. Let some time go by. When you inevitably run into her again, say a minimal hello and then exit the conversation and go talk to other people. If she says terrible stuff to you, say “What on earth would make you say that? That’s really out of line” and let a horrible awkwardness descend.
I don’t know, you guys, am I being too mean? This lady has clearly demonstrated that she’s really insecure, can’t hold her liquor, and will completely verbally abuse and bully a total stranger if it suits her. She’s not a teenager, she’s fifty years old. Why would you want to get closer or spend more time together? She’s already shown you what she’s like to hang out with: NOT FUN. Just because your friend has bad taste in girlfriends doesn’t mean you have to have poor taste in dining companions. It’s nice that your friend and your boyfriend want to smooth things over, but they didn’t have to bear the brunt of her behavior. Let them eat with her and see how fun she is.
I know that socializing-as-a-couple almost inevitably means breaking bread with someone you don’t 100% love, and you smile and make the best of it for your partner’s sake. But that’s for work events or relatives or old friends – people who are grandfathered in! You don’t already regularly dine with these people or you would have met her before. You actually have a choice here about whether to become more engaged with her.
For the record, I think that if your partner hates all your friends, or you hate all their friends, or their friends hate you, then that is a bad sign for future happiness. I also think partners shouldn’t pressure each other to like or hang out with people that they obviously don’t really get along with or go places they really don’t want to go. You don’t have to go everywhere together! Your partner can just say “Partner couldn’t make it. Lovely to see you!” and have a good time and not make a thing about it. And when people in your partner’s life are toxic and abusive, you’d be much better off shielding your partner from having to spend time with those people than pressuring them to go along to get along. I think we could do with less social coercion all around.
Trust your feelings. What you feel about the prospect of this dinner is dread. Dread is a good reason to not go to dinner with someone you just met and don’t really care about. Dread is your friend. Dread is trying to protect you from a bad time with an unkind person. Surely your boyfriend won’t try to make you go to dinner with someone who verbally abused you just so he can feel good about hanging with his bro.
So, say that you bow to pressure (or sick curiosity) and go. You do NOT apologize. You let HER apologize. And you say something back like “Yeah, it was a rough evening and I didn’t enjoy the way you spoke to me. I appreciate the apology, though.” And then you change the subject and show her how a grownup does it.