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