BG: I have an ex-favorite uncle. His wife is still my favorite aunt. He... it's rather complicated, and all mixed up with religion which I know we don't talk about here, but in brief he's an ex-clergy-person who after a severe midlife crisis has embraced a new ideology, still within the same religion but a little far-out, and is preaching it rather passionately. He is also someone I have greatly admired & felt close to in my younger days. He married me and DH.
Now here's the story: my DH, who cares greatly about such things, got into it with Ex-Favorite Uncle about his new ideology on an online message board they both frequent. DH was extremely civil but I could read between the lines that XFU believed he was being personally attacked. (This had happened before, and I'd tried to patch it up.) I did something really stupid and stepped in, emailing XFU to explain he was not being personally attacked. (DH was out.) The conversation got horrible. We emailed back and forth about five times and by the second email I was crying. My uncle:
- Misquoted something DH had said in a way that made it sound vicious (where originally it was quite measured)
- When I corrected the misquote, sent me a one-line email, “This is ridiculous. I'm working and I have deadlines to meet”... then when I replied, “Well I'm sorry,” he chose to continue the conversation with a crack about “back-door apologies” which ended up revealing that he...
- Believed that a friendly email DH had sent him about the previous issue was an apology (it wasn't) and therefore an admission of wrongdoing, for which he called DH “duplicitous” (to me, his wife) for debating him a second time
- Believed—assumed—DH had put me up to emailing him. (If you knew DH you would understand just how ridiculous this is. The thought of playing any such head-games never entered his mind. To me this was perhaps the worst insult of all.)
Now here's the real problem: I was a pushover back then. If you read the email conversation, what you would find between the lines of my replies is the attitude, “Oh no my uncle is mad I have to patch this up” and “DH needs to stop debating my uncle since it makes him mad.” I regret this very much. (I also regret asking DH to send the above-mentioned friendly email which caused such problems.) I now think DH has an absolute right to debate anyone he likes in a public forum as long as he is civil, and I have butted out of any involvement between him & XFU.
I also now know a lot more about my ex-favorite uncle than I ever wanted to know. I'm kicking myself for ever having admired him, actually, and for the red flags I've ignored in the past.
But it took me a long time to get there. For months after the interaction my attitude was “Oh, I hope Favorite Uncle isn't still mad.” (We see them maybe twice a year.) At some point it changed, or I changed, or something, and I finally realized I was mad, very mad, and that the things my uncle had said to me were completely unacceptable, that his idea of who DH was was so far outside reality that I really did not need to be bothered by or even consider his opinion. But by this time it was six months later. Now it's a year.
I've seen Favorite Aunt and XFU once since then. We talked about other things. I was more distant with XFU than I used to be but got the distinct impression he didn't notice or care. I'm going to see them again this weekend—that is, I'm going to a conference at their former church and will run into them, and spend a little time with them if they wish me to, since they live nearby. I let the conference people make arrangements for where I was staying rather than asking if I could stay with XFU and FA as I always have before. I am wondering what to say if FA realizes I'm cooling off on them, I'm wondering how to manage cooling off on XFU but not FA, since none of this is fair to her... I am feeling tempted to say something PA to XFU about “didn't want to bother you, I'm sure you have deadlines to meet,” which I really shouldn't.
And most of all, I am wondering this: honesty is generally the best route, and saying to XFU: “I believe you owe me an apology for the things you said to me, and if you don't agree, fine, now you know why I'm cooling off on you” would normally be the best thing. But the fact that it's “The things you said to me a full year ago which I doubt you even remember” makes it seem... just impossible. Is it impossible? What do you all think?