Mind Your Own Manners; Magical Thinking vs. Reality
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I read your column a couple of weeks ago about not being Miss Manners, but here’s one for you anyway. I’m planning a small dinner party and want to invite a few couples we really like. Unfortunately one of the potential guests has made it clear to me that he does not like one of the other couples. They are all my friends, and it doesn’t seem right that he should dictate my guest list. And I want to invite who I want to invite. But I also want to keep everybody happy (mmm…that might be my problem…).
Dr. Hurd replies,
First, a few comments about manners. Manners are a way to uphold and honor your choices. The friends you have in your life are there because you chose them. The same is often true of business associates and coworkers. By treating the people you choose to have in your life with respect, you’re actually upholding the value of your own choices.
Unfortunately, manners are not taught like that. Most people, if they learn to be polite at all, learn it by hearing, “I should be polite and nice. It’s a pain and a drag. But I should do it.” Think of manners as a form of professionalism applied to your life. You’re polite because you like the way you present yourself. It’s more than just the desire to make the world a better place; it’s the desire to make your world a better place, firmly grounded in reality. So you treat it that way.
OK. On to your dinner party. What you should not do is invite people to your house who dislike one another—but not because your friend requests it. I will assume that the purpose of your party is to have a good time. How can you or others be well served if you know without a doubt that one or several of the guests will be uncomfortable?
Should others dictate your guest list? Certainly not. But you have to give your friend credit for being honest. He’s entitled to say, “I don’t want to be there if so-and-so is there.” And given his honesty and straightforwardness, he will have no reason to feel offended if you go ahead and have a party without him so the other guests can attend. If he does take offense when you do this, then you’ll know for sure that he’s not just trying to control your guest list; he’s trying to control your choice of friends. Oops…not OK. There’s a difference between making an honest request and expecting to control someone else’s life.
I’m suggesting you do what he requests either by inviting your other friends and not him, or him and not your other friends. And again, not because he’s requesting it. Do it for yourself.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I liked your answer to the reader who asked about “disposable relationships.” Maybe you can give me some advice on that subject. I have been dating a guy for several months now, and we seem to have a strong connection. We have a wonderful time together and are compatible in every way. But he still goes out with other people, and I assume “hooking up” from time to time. I have brought up the subject of exclusivity, but he waves it off and says “Oh, we’re just fine!” In the meantime, I am being exclusive to him (though he doesn’t seem to care either way) but he doesn’t feel compelled to reciprocate.
Dr. Hurd replies,
We all make choices. For whatever reason, his choice is to not be exclusive. It’s not personal. It’s simply what he wants. I realize it’s not what you want, and you’re just as entitled to your desires as he is. But if the two of you are not yet compatible in this respect, you have to accept it. And this isn’t advice as much as a statement of fact—a fact with which you’re uncomfortable, but comfort levels don’t alter facts.
You say the two of you are compatible “in every way.” But are you, really? The desire for monogamy is a very basic compatibility issue. Perhaps you believe you and he are more compatible than you really are. Wishful thinking sometimes colors love, and when your wishes go adrift of the facts, they become nothing more than magical thinking. Careful!
By the way, you assume he’s actually hooking up/having sex with others. It sounds like that might or might not be true. You don’t know for sure, and you don’t know exactly why he thinks you and he are doing “just fine.” Mistaken assumptions are the #1 killers of relationships. So if it was important enough to write me about it, then it’s important enough to ask him as well.
At the same time, try to keep in mind that his desires and choices are not yours to control. Treat his desires with respect, and don’t take them as personal attacks. Your goal here must not be to change him; your goal is simply to understand.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.