Adapted from a recent online discussion:My girlfriend, “Cleo,” is allergic to seafood. She does not carry an EpiPen because “it’s not that type of reaction,” but she always asks lots of questions about ingredients and preparation. My mom finds the questions insulting and believed Cleo was making up the allergy.Recently at my family barbecue, Cleo did her usual questioning before eating. Maybe 30 minutes later she started complaining that her face itched. She took Benadryl but she turned red, and her eyes began swelling. We had to go to the emergency room for a cortisone shot. As we’re getting in the car, my mom confessed she fried the fish and chicken in the same oil and lied when Cleo asked. She admitted she planned to prove Cleo’s allergy was fake.My mom apologized and is paying the emergency room bill. Even so, Cleo called my mom a monster and wants nothing to do with her. She also broke up with me, saying I shouldn’t have to choose between her and Mom. She won’t consider a compromise like eating before visits.Is there any way to get past my anger at my mom and get Cleo back?My Mom Poisoned My Girlfriend
Wow. No, there’s no “compromise” like “eating before visits.” Would you ever agree to that yourself, seriously? Food is social sustenance as well, and not something one sidelines because one’s boyfriend’s mom’s ego insisted she commit assault.
Or, put another way, would you ever consider yourself so awesome a catch that someone would make such a huge sacrifice just to be with you?
I’m not singling you out as unworthy of love by saying this. I think we all have a blind spot (the sizes of which vary) when it comes to the sacrifices we ask of those who choose to be with us. Whether it’s “deal with my morning snappiness” or “don’t judge me for my lack of ambition” or whatever else, we all have deficits that compromise whatever great qualities we offer.
Your mother’s jaw-dropping act of smugness and hostility made her one of your significant deficits – grounds for Cleo to seek companionship elsewhere. Your ridiculous suggestion that she eat solo in advance of group meals adds another.
Please accept Cleo’s decision as a sound one, as in, accept that her potential sacrifices are too great under the circumstances to warrant her staying with you.
As for how you get over your anger at your mom, I can only say, watch and wait: See if she actually gets it.
Re: Cleo:Cleo would be totally within her rights to press charges, since the poisoning was intentional. That’s a well-recognized point of no return for social relationships. Why did you somehow think that Cleo would continue to associate with your mom?Anonymous
Is it wrong this struck me as funny?
Poisoning: 1. administering a substance that usually kills or harms an organism; 2. a well-recognized point of no return for social relationships.
Full disclosure on the poisoning story: I’ve seen a few like it recently. I suspect it’s an offshoot of our foul cultural moment, where those different from us are openly (again) part of some contemptible. Other who must be called out and shunned. Can’t wait till it passes.
I’ve been seeing a lovely man for a year. We eased slowly into the relationship – friends for months first – as we were both still hurting after recent divorces.We are perfectly suited in so many ways – identical interests, shared friends, same-age children, parallel life experiences – and we enjoy one another very much, despite the time restrictions that running separate households and raising children entail. There’s a lot of laughter and a sense of relief and sanctuary.So what’s the problem? I’m having a hard time trusting him. His longtime marriage ended because of an infidelity on his part. He takes full responsibility.But he often doesn’t take responsibility for admittedly minor things between us – saying something hurtful, for example, or forgetting plans we’ve made, or other mild but annoying, inconsiderate actions. There is always an excuse – a reason I don’t understand or somehow misinterpreted.When I raise my concerns, he says he certainly understands but that’s just the way he is – spacy, no filter. And, well, he is charmingly socially awkward and absent-minded-professorish. Which is all fine if he would accept the impact of his actions on me.On the other hand, I was married to an occasionally verbally and physically violent drug addict for 16 years with all the passion, intensity, gaslighting, and insanity that sort of relationship entails. The two men could not be more different. I never gave up hope until the bitter end and nearly died from grief. My current relationship is a welcome, healing relief.Am I oversensitive or seeing real red flags?Red Flags?
People who can’t or won’t admit fault are always a red flag.
There are judgment calls, always, but – forgetting plans? If one can’t simultaneously be one’s unfiltered self and form the words, “Oh no! I’m sorry. No excuse. Please forgive me” – then that’s not a self around whom I want to spend much time.
But, also always a red flag: Coming out of 16 years of “passion, intensity, gaslighting and insanity” with a “violent drug addict” and still greeting your own distrust with, “Am I oversensitive?”
Questioning your reality is the emotional signature of gaslighting. You know this. It’s when you respond to something done to you that’s objectively bad – as in, something you’d never encourage anyone you care about to put up with – by wondering if you’re the one at fault.
Plus, the reasons you cite for his suiting you – besides sanctuary, which I’ll get to – are ones of coincidence, not character. Interests, kid ages, “parallel life experiences.” These are important for compatibility but they won’t help you trust an untrustworthy person or like an unlikable one. Commonality AND character count.
When you question your ability to judge character – especially when your history gives you cause to – then I urge you not to go it alone. Find a good therapist who can help you (re-)calibrate your boundaries and judgment.
That you find emotional relief in this man compared with your ex is a character point in his favor, and could mean one of us is overstating the importance of your boyfriend’s defensiveness.
But he could just be less awful, too.
So there’s no overstating how important it is to hear and trust your own voice. Please do not commit further, to anyone, till you do.
Carolyn Hax is a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post. She started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. Email her at email@example.com.