I recently ran into a situation in which I was left at a loss for proper etiquette, and I hope to solicit assistance in case such an unsettling interaction comes up again.
My partner and I have been together for several years and, under the law in our country of residence, have a legally recognized partnership (which is tantamount to being married). We are quite happy and (I believe) present ourselves as stable and mature to our friends and family.
However, I had my confidence badly shaken a few days ago when a former colleague and good friend of mine invited me for a coffee. In the course of conversation, we discussed the recent New Year’s Eve party that my partner and I had hosted at our apartment. Then she presented this gem.
“You know, while I had a good time at your party, I just don’t like your partner.”
How am I to respond to that?
While my immediate reaction was to simply ignore the comment, I feel a sense of obligation to defend the man to whom I am attached. Indeed, I have far more loyalty to him than I do to the friend and am quite willing to engage in an argument to defend him. However, I feel that I should not have to extol upon his attributes (if she had criticized something in particular) or, even worse, give her some sort of affirmation with a half-hearted, “I know he can be difficult but…”
By staying silent though, I have to ask: why should she be able to get away with rebuking someone I care about so that we avoid a confrontation? On the other hand, if she’s willing to make such a careless and hurtful comment in the first place, is it worth the time and effort to set her right?
Further, is there a different kind of etiquette for those who are more casually dating? While it’s never happened to me personally, I’ve had friends who have been quite straightforward in their criticisms of the new man or women in someone’s life – and their criticisms were well received.
I hope there is some sort of middle ground that I can take in the future if this situation presents itself again. For now, though, I think I’ll avoid coffee with this “friend”. 0105-13
First, your situation is universal to everyone regardless of gender or marital status. You noted that your other friends have freely given their critical review of other people’s choices of mate and their criticism well received so I gather that it is not criticism of partners, in general, you object to, but rather that it has now hit home for you. In other words,what was good for those other gooses is not now good for this gander. One question to be raised is why you cannot receive it as well as others have previously.
Everyone, and I do mean *everyone*, dislikes someone else. It is not uncommon to like one half of a couple and have varying degrees of tolerance, acceptance, or affection for the “better half”. I believe it is unrealistic to expect friends to bond closely with both partners of a relationship. It can and does happen but often relationships with a couple is weighted more to one person than the other, particularly if there is a friendship history that predates the new partner.
Good friends may express concern that the new person in your life is not who they would have chosen for you or they see character traits that do not result in building you up. My best friend did not like my now husband back when he and I were dating. I listened, took her comments under consideration and married him anyway. Twenty six years later, she and I are still best friends and will always be close but I don’t expect her to have warm fuzzies for my husband. They mutually respect each other and are quite congenial when together but that is as far as it goes. Conversely, I have expressed concerns to friends about new relationships where I see looming troubles. I’ve watched in sadness a friend disregard that counsel and marry a man many of us knew would abuse her and he did. The difference between this kind of “criticism” and what your friend did is that she was expressing an opinion based on her selfishness rather than from a concern for you. She may be inarticulate in expressing a concern for you and if so, she needs to work on that. A good question for her to ask is, “Are you happy?,” or, “Does he/she make you happy?” If two people are happy in their relationship, it is not any of my business to be meddling further.
Your reaction to this is, “Thank you for your comments. I will take them under consideration.” And then change the subject. If she has been a valuable friend through the years, keep up the relationship but with visits between you two alone. She can choose to not interact with your partner since she is choosing to have the friendship with you and not him. The onus falls upon her to be civil and courteous when she chooses to be a guest in your house and accepts the hospitality of both of you. And it should go without saying that you will never gossip about your partner to her in any way lest you fuel her further.