We had a racy two days there, didn't we? Now we're on to suburban drama, coveting, etc. Spend some time on this baby, but don't forget to chat at 1 p.m.
Q: My husband and I get together a lot with our fun group of neighbors. We are a varied group, interesting and different people, living close to each other on a small suburban street. It’s a great group of neighbors, for the most part, except there’s one woman who would like to sink her teeth into my husband every time we all get together.
At first, my husband thought it was kind of funny; now her behavior bugs him more and more, too. And now he comes to neighborhood gatherings less and less, choosing only to make an appearance now and then -- which only makes him more of a treasure to her when he decides to show.
Now granted, I actually like this woman -- if not for her, we would not all be hanging around together, and I really like my neighbors. She’s a more-the-merrier type of person and always wants absolutely everyone to attend every gathering. But especially my husband. And it’s getting to be sickening.
She has decided that they are “simpatico” (her word -- and what, we’re not, after 30 years of marriage?). She has decided they have something special in common; still not sure what that is exactly, but I heard her say that to someone once. She gets all mushy when he arrives at the party, squeals his name out loud, and attempts to hijack him and engage him in close, private conversation the entire time he’s there, making sure she sits right next to him. There’s nothing I want more than my husband to be at the same party I’m at -- but when he is, I find myself watching her out of the corner of my eye, latching on to him, and can barely carry on a conversation with anyone myself. My hackles go up and I feel "minimized," if you will -- like, what does she think I do NOT have to offer him that she does? I want to shout out, “He’s going home with ME!” and then of course feel very stupid and childish. Invariably, he leaves the party early and goes home after less than an hour, and I’m left conflicted: happy that I do not have to worry about her hanging on him any more, and sad that he’s gone and I’m at the party alone where just about everyone else is a couple. (P.S., she’s happily married to an absolute dream of a nice guy and no, I am not interested in swinging. And yes, I do believe she would do that in a heartbeat if given the opportunity. And no, my husband will not give her the opportunity. And yes, he gives me plenty of visible attention at every get-together. It’s HER behavior that’s the issue.)
It’s been many years of this and her behavior peaks and drops off -- in other words, that’s why we still wind up being around her some of the time. It’s not bad ALL the time, but we just never know what we’re going to be faced with. I don’t fault my husband’s behavior; he is polite around her, tries not to be rude, and always seeks out other people to talk to. He’s as gregarious as me and doesn’t restrict himself to talking to strictly guys or gals at these parties. But we find ourselves being very apprehensive when a neighborhood party is planned, or, after-the-fact, rehashing details of her behavior days after the party is over and wishing she had behaved differently.
What do we do, other than stop going to neighborhood parties?
-- He's With Me, Framingham
A: HWM, I get why this is a big deal. It’s not so much that this woman is all over your husband -- it’s that she’s the ring leader of your social circle. Finding a good social life in the suburbs isn’t easy. If this woman is the key to your inclusion, it’s dangerous to upset her.
But you might have to.
You ask what you can do to deal with the situation, besides stop going to parties. The answer is -- you can gently tell this woman that your hubby is embarrassed by her attention. You don’t have to tell her that she's inappropriately flirting with your man. You can soften the message and say, “My husband gets very uncomfortable with the attention and he’s too shy to tell you. Is there a way you can make him less of a focus when he's around?” You can add, in your sweetest voice, “I feel so bad having to tell you this! He’d never tell you himself.”
Some people will tell you that your husband should be the one to talk to her about this, and maybe they’re right. But if you fear that a private chat between them would send the wrong signal, I’d do this yourself.
Telling her that he’s uncomfortable is certainly a risk, even if you pretend that this is about his over-sensitivity as opposed to her inappropriateness. This woman has a big personality. She might get embarrassed or angry. But confronting the situation is all you can do at this point. And really, she deserves to know that her behavior is putting someone off. Perhaps she’s oblivious and needs to be informed.
Give her the benefit of the doubt and talk to her. It could go horribly wrong, but if you're already thinking about skipping these social events, what do you have to lose?
As for swinging, I recently reread one of my favorites, “The 158-Pound Marriage” by John Irving. He’s always pretty brilliant when it comes to writing about love, but if you want a story about all of the ways swinging can go wrong, I highly recommend making it your next beach read.
Also, HWM, good job on getting the word “hackles” on Love Letters.