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Can I tell her off?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  December 2, 2009 09:00 AM

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Thanks for your comments yesterday. It was all good stuff -- and helpful, I hope. We can talk about it when we chat at 1.

Today’s letter comes from far away. It’s about setting the record straight, if that’s even possible.

Q: I'm currently living and working in the developing world. Miracle of miracles, I actually met another (American) lesbian here several months ago. (She's 25 and I'm 28.) After hanging out for a few weeks platonically, we ended up inevitably hooking up. I say inevitably, because with the prospect of neither of us having sex for our rather extended stays in this country, and the allure of actually meeting another gay person in a place where homosexuality is, at best, dismissed as impossible, the curiosity/temptation would be too great for most people to dismiss (we've both got charm to go around as well, so the attraction wasn't entirely circumstantial).

Fast forward a few months, and the fling didn't work out. I would have been happy for it to continue -- I found her fun to be around, a good travel companion, a sympathetic ear when living here felt hard and I needed to vent, and, again, getting to make out was awesome -- but, for reasons I don't quite understand (some combination of still working through an old relationship, not being totally comfortable with her gayness, and feeling like I was looking for something more serious), she stopped being interested. She expressed this not with actual words, but by being pretty passive aggressive -- making plans and then not showing up, saying, at the end of a night out, that her room was too messy for me to come up to, saying that she wanted to kiss me and then doing so pretty unenthusiastically. At the same time, she was apparently telling everyone and anyone who would listen about the drama (good and bad) between us. (For someone who's not totally comfortable with her sexuality, she sure is capable of running her mouth about it.)

None of this was cool to me, but I also knew that I didn't have that many friends here, and given that a support network is vital when you're in such unfamiliar territory, it wasn't a particularly good time to be burning bridges. It took me a few weeks, but I relatively quickly I got over it, and was ready to be friends with her, which she claimed she wanted.

Unfortunately, it's turning out that the same bad behavior she used in our romantic relationship is showing up in our friendship. Making plans and then not showing up, making plans, which she knows would require me to sleep on her couch (I live several hours from where she does), and then getting mad when I assumed that's what would happen; she even recently, after a night of hard drinking, came onto me really aggressively. Now that we're supposedly friends, I find this behavior especially egregious. It's definitely not how I treat my friends.

My question, at long last, is, can I tell her off? (I've tried to talk reasonably and compassionately with her about this stuff in the past, and it just got me blank stares and responses of "I'm not talking about this.") I'm tired of taking this behavior from her, and then being totally accommodating; I end up apologizing for HER mistakes. She goes back to the U.S. in a couple weeks, so it's mostly moot, but she still thinks I'm going to hang out with her this weekend for her last hurrah here. I don't trust her not to act out in some way. Though I could just ignore her and move on, there is a part of me that wants to set the record straight and let her know that she can't be a jerk one minute and then expect me to come running to hang out with her the next minute.

– Accommodating in Angola

A: AIA, I think you’ve taken Love Letters into uncharted territory – and by that, I don’t mean Angola. I’m pretty sure that no one’s ever asked us whether it’s worth telling someone off.

In my experience, telling someone off is both glorious and devastating. There’s the initial high that comes with the emotional purge … but that high is generally followed by an extreme low, assuming the person on the other end of the tell-off reacts with ambivalence, which they often do.

We both know that this woman is a disappointment and that she has behaved like a kid at summer camp. And we both know that telling her off won’t change anything – she’ll still be selfish and unavailable. She’s probably not someone you’re going to know years after Angola.

But if the act of telling her off helps you to move on and prevents you from feeling like a doormat – if explaining to her how she screwed up sets a boundary in your head – then go to it.

Just prepare yourself for a disappointing reaction. Maybe she’ll feel awful and rally as a friend, but most likely, she’ll give you a mild apology and a shrug. She is who she is. The tell-off is really for you. I can't promise you'll feel great either way.

If you do go ahead with it, make it classy. It’s tempting to go crazy during a tell-off, but really, it’s better to make your case with dignity and walk away with some pride.

Readers? Is it best to keep that last angry rant to yourself? Does it ever make anyone feel better to call someone out on their bad behavior? Share thoughts.

– Meredith



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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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