Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: About five years ago, my (now ex) boyfriend and I leased a place with some friends. One of these friends, “Mark,” ended up sleeping with my ex while we were still together. Mark also reneged on his financial obligations, leaving me to pick up the slack. He left the apartment a complete disaster, with animal feces and rotten food all over his room. I had to clean it to avoid additional fees. I have not spoken to him since. I recently ran into Mark at a party. I discreetly informed the host that I wanted to avoid Mark and left immediately. Afterward, Mark sent me a very polite Facebook message saying it was nice to see me and he was sorry that we couldn’t get along. After his note, I feel tremendously guilty for giving him the cold shoulder, but I’m also indignant — his behavior in the past was inexcusable. Should I be able to coexist with him, or was it justifiable for me to leave? Is there a way to avoid bad-mouthing Mark while still justifying my immense distaste for him? I want to convey my anger, but wish to avoid recounting a long and sordid history. How should I handle this?
DEAR EX: It’s very easy for “Mark” to reach out in friendship — he wasn’t the one cleaning up the poop. He has nothing to be residually angry about.
He doesn’t seem to have acknowledged his behavior and its extreme impact on you. If he did acknowledge and ask for forgiveness, you should consider granting it.
As it is, you should continue to avoid him if he makes you uncomfortable (though in my mind, he should leave, not you). It is gracious of you to want to avoid bad-mouthing him, but giving a simple and truthful explanation is fair play.
You could say, “My friendship with ‘Mark’ ended when he slept with my boyfriend and then ran out on the rent.”
If you don’t want to go there, you can simply say, “We had a falling out several years ago; I don’t enjoy being around him.”
DEAR AMY: Whenever my stepmother comes to visit, I spend the entire time cleaning up behind her. She leaves empty food wrappers, leftover food, empty to-go food containers and half-empty cans of soda out on the counters. After she finishes a meal, she leaves her plate — with food still on it — sitting on the counter. In the kitchen, in the living room, upstairs, on the patio — she leaves her food mess all over the house. I find this extreme. I live in Florida, where any sugary beverage or snack item left out attracts ants or other bugs. I find it incredibly disrespectful, but I have kept quiet about it because she’s basically like a parent to me. Scolding a parent seems wrong. She doesn’t behave like this in her own house, nor do I when I go home to visit. Is it wrong to expect her to clean up after herself? How do I bring it up without causing a huge problem?
Reaching My Limit
DEAR REACHING: If your stepmother is truly like a mother to you, then you should have confidence that the relationship is strong and secure enough for you to mention something that bothers you. You should also have confidence that she will attempt to behave differently once she is told about the impact of her behavior on you.
You can start by framing this as a “favor.” Do not deliver this message by note or text message or any other passive delivery system.
Make eye contact and ask her, “Could you do me a favor and make sure to clean up all of your food containers and dishes right when you use them? We have a terrible problem with bugs here. If you could rinse your dishes and leave them in the sink and always throw away your food wrappers, I’d appreciate it.”
DEAR AMY: I didn’t like your advice to “Curious Mom,” the woman whose husband refused to drive his kids anywhere at night because he knew he would be “too drunk.” Suggesting that this mother basically go on strike could put this drunk driver on the road.
DEAR APPALLED: “Curious Mom’s” husband was described as a “high-functioning alcoholic” who seemed to choose his drinking times. Forcing this issue puts the burden on him to acknowledge the impact of his drinking on the family and perhaps decide to stay sober on the nights he is responsible for driving.