Son keeps di­vorce a se­cret from mother, but his sib­lings want to spill the beans

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - Carolyn Hax Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@wash­post.com. Get her col­umn de­liv­ered to your in­box each morn­ing at bit.ly/hax­post. Join the dis­cus­sion live at noon Fri­days at wash­ing­ton­post.com/ con­ver­sa­tions.

Dear Carolyn: My brother (mid-60s) and wife sep­a­rated nearly three years ago and made the de­ci­sion not to tell our then-89year-old mom, rea­son­ing it was to pro­tect her. Mom is strong, re­al­is­tic, very in­tu­itive, re­source­ful and — although she sees that side of the fam­ily weekly — lives in­de­pen­dently and isn’t close to them or at­tached to an idea of them. My brother is an un­feel­ing nar­cis­sist.

Now the cou­ple are for­mally di­vorc­ing. The ten­sion around this lie that ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing my sis­ter and me, has co­op­er­ated with, and the gen­eral un­hap­pi­ness be­tween the cou­ple that has to be tol­er­ated at all fam­ily oc­ca­sions, fi­nally feels self­ish and point­less to en­dure. My sis­ter and I are con­sid­er­ing spilling the beans by say­ing they are liv­ing apart (with­out specifics). Brother will be en­raged, but there’s no talk­ing to him about any­thing ac­tu­ally, and we’re sick of the cha­rade. Any thoughts?

Stuck in Dys­func­tion

Stuck in Dys­func­tion: Nor­mally in these sit­u­a­tions I ad­vise warn­ing some­one you’re through keep­ing a se­cret — that you won’t vol­un­teer in­for­ma­tion but will tell the truth when asked. Giv­ing peo­ple the chance to de­liver their own news be­fore you pre­sume to do it for them is sim­ple de­cency.

Your mother’s age and brother’s volatil­ity, though, war­rant flex­i­bil­ity. If you two rea­son­ably con­clude that your mom is bet­ter off hear­ing the news from one of you — i.e., it’s not just bet­ter for you — then one of you talks to­Mom pre­emp­tively when the di­vorce is of­fi­cial. Then you brace for the fra­ter­nal tirade. “I agreed to con­ceal a sep­a­ra­tion, be­cause the out­come was in doubt,” you can say, “but not a di­vorce.”

Be­fore you spill Bean 1, though, please be as sure as pos­si­ble that dis­clo­sure is in Mom’s best in­ter­ests. I tend to con­clude re­flex­ively that it is, but in­di­vid­ual fam­i­lies, feel­ings and fall­out are best gauged by the peo­ple who know them best. Good luck.

Dear Carolyn: We are three gals who are close friends with “Jane.” Jane has re­cently com­pleted a gourmet cook­ing class and wants to show off her new skills by cook­ing us all din­ner at her place, which is re­ally sweet. The prob­lem is, her two cats climb on the fur­ni­ture, dig in the flow­er­pots, climb up on the toi­let seat, paw and claw through the con­tents of the lit­ter box and then walk all over the kitchen coun­ters, the cut­ting boards, the food-prep is­land and the kitchen ta­ble, even when Jane’s fam­ily is eat­ing.

Jane knows this is not hy­gienic, but it doesn’t bother her fam­ily — they think it is adorable. As for us, the “ick fac­tor” turns our stom­achs and leaves us un­will­ing to eat a meal at Jane’s house.

She is hy­per­sen­si­tive when it comes to her “dar­lings.” If we tell the truth, our friend­ship will never be the same. If we all find ex­cuses to beg off, it will break her heart. We can’t stall much longer; Jane is try­ing to pin down a date. We love her, and she has al­ways un­con­di­tion­ally put up with our quirks and “blind spots.” What should we do?

Friends of Jane

Friends of Jane: Put up with her quirky blind spot and ac­cept her in­vi­ta­tion, un­less one of you is im­mune com­pro­mised.

It’s ei­ther that or ad­mit to Jane you’re very, very sorry you can’t abide the cats.

For the record, it’s sit­u­a­tions like this that have ce­mented in me a deep loathing of de­fen­sive­ness, es­pe­cially among in­ti­mates. If you can’t say what you re­ally feel to a friend with­out fear of trig­ger­ing a melt­down, then you can’t con­duct the es­sen­tial busi­ness of that friend­ship.

And re­ally — if dis­com­fort with cats that pin­ball from lit­ter box to table­top is a shock­ing dis­clo­sure, then what ex­actly qual­i­fies as nor­mal? Es­pe­cially when there’s such a sim­ple an­swer Jane can give: “Un­der­stand­able! I for­get some­times that not ev­ery­one is a cat per­son.”

Alas, the re­al­ity you’re forced to work with in­cludes Jane’s de­fen­sive­ness — and pin­balling cats and gag re­flexes and val­ued friend­ships and Jane’s per­sis­tence de­spite, ap­par­ently, your prodi­gious dodg­ing.

These leave you these op­tions: Tell Jane the truth; lie to Jane (i.e. con­jure a bind­ing, blan­ket ex­cuse, such as an al­lergy); con­trive ways around Jane’s kitchen and let her imag­i­na­tion come up with even worse rea­sons you’re avoid­ing her; or eat the blasted din­ner.

Lies and stalling are low roads mas­querad­ing as cour­tesy. If Jane were my friend, I’d takemy serv­ing of Chicken a la Fluffy and thank her for it. It’s what you do for peo­ple you love. It’s why I ate roughly a cat’s worth of shed­dings over the course ofmy child­hood, served by my pet in­dul­gent grandma.

If it makes you feel bet­ter, Google “fe­cal bac­te­ria” and cell­phones, tooth­brushes, beards or the kitchen sponges we use to kid our­selves that our prep sur­faces are “hy­gienic.” Ick is in­escapable. True friends, on the other hand, don’t grow on sinks.

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