Hi Captain Awkward,
I have a good female friend, V. Friend V has a wife, O. Every weekend, all of our friends group and SO’s will get together Saturday night to hang out, have a drink and play games. This is great. What is not so great is that O has privately reached out to every masculine person in the group that she has not dated and let them know that they make her uncomfortable and would they please not talk to her or interact with her in any way. She has also publicly said that she thinks each one is an asshole and will ask people who date those men what they see in them anyway.
When I thought that she only felt this way towards me, I was hurt, but tried to do the right thing to make her more comfortable. At this point, as more of the situation is coming out, I’m struggling for a solution. Her discomfort is beginning to feel secondary to the discomfort of the half of our group she’s slagging and asking to tiptoe around her, but I don’t know how to deal with this.
(He/Him pronouns are fine)
Read about the Five Geek Social Fallacies, if you haven’t already. It explains a lot about how a situation as weird as “I strongly dislike you, please never speak to me or interact with me at these small events that both of us come to literally every Saturday 52 times/year” can come about. I’m on the record that folks gotta call out the creepers they know, but in this case O. is giving no one any path to improve relations with her and insisting on attending gatherings with y’all just so she can tell you she doesn’t like you. Like, what’s her end game here? “Could you please stop doing that offensive thing” is a reasonable request because it has an unspoken “…because I want spending time with you to be more pleasant and comfortable” at the end of it. Critique is an investment in the relationship. What’s the plan for “Don’t address me, ever, even when I am right here eating your bread and salt“?
I wonder how much V. knows, or guesses, and how incredibly awkward the situation has become and how much of this happens behind her back. None of her choices are fun ones. She could either let try to shut down O.’s behavior, let O.’s likes and dislikes rule (and isolate herself from hanging out with you), or let her wife be mean to all of you and hope that you will put up with it for her sake and that it doesn’t all blow up in the end (probably what’s happening now). You can’t control O.’s behavior, or V.’s reaction to it, but I see several choices that you can control:
Address O. directly when she says something mean to you:
You can go short: “Wow.” “Okay.” “I’ll keep that in mind.” “Noted.”
You can go for sincerity: “I don’t really like you either, but you make my friend happy and I do my best to be cool for V.’s sake. Since you’re here at my home for games night, I sure wish you’d do the same. I’ll stop saying or doing [that thing that pisses you off so much], but I’d like you to either make some kind of peace where you can be basically polite to me so that V. can see her friends, or take a break every once and a while and schedule some solo time with *your* friends. You don’t have to like any of us, but you do need to be civil if you’re gonna hang.”
Have a private conversation with your friend: “V., did you know that O. has asked me to never speak to her or interact with her? It’s really awkward and makes me feel terrible, especially since we see her every week when we see you. What’s going on with that?”
This is risky, because V. will feel obligated to take O.’s side, and if O.’s behavior is an attempt to isolate V. from all of you, this plays into her hands. It also risks making V. feel responsible for O., when she’s not the one messing up. A boundary would be “O. needs to be polite or she will be uninvited” and then enforcing that, which also means that V. will no longer feel invited or will be subject to all kinds of pressure to stay home in solidarity.
Depending on what V. says, a follow-up of “Is there anything I can do to make this all easier on you?” and also “I don’t want you to have to mediate this, I just wanted to find out if there is something I am unwittingly doing that I could do to make this all less hostile. I can talk to O. directly next time it comes up.
See also: “O. doesn’t have to like me, but this open hostility is getting old. Can we hang out sometimes without her?”
Change up the routine. Arrange private/smaller hangouts instead of the weekly All Hands Hang: Lunch with just V. sometimes, hard-core game days with the hard-core gamers, stay home sometimes, make it somehow OK for others to stay home, invite some new blood. Try back in a month and see if it’s better.
Other ideas, readers? I notice that O. talked to “all the men in the group she has not dated” and I wasn’t sure how to parse it- what about the ones she has dated (if any)?