DEAR AMY: I know it's very painful to be on the receiving end of a friend breakup, but there must be more appropriate ways of doing it than how my wife and I have done it, twice. They were friendships with two couples, and both friendships were relatively recent. One couple had a wife who could make sudden, unexpected insults. They used to be occasional, but when it happened four times over four weeks, we decided that that was enough. Done. Without explanation, we cut them out from our social events. We had problems with both the husband and wife of the other couple. His racist and homophobic comments over several years became too much to take. (I know we should never have accepted them in the first place, but that was a learning experience for us, too.) The wife's know-it-all attitude was exhausting. We cut them out of social events, again without explanation. Both of our decisions seem very passive-aggressive. I know it's not a good thing to do. But what would you suggest as a more proper way to cut people out of our lives?
DEAR FORMER: In the case of the first couple, the wife might have a medical issue that has made her behavior increasingly erratic.
It would have been kindest to respond to these insults by contacting her or her husband and asking: "Are you OK? Because you don't seem to be enjoying our company the way you used to."
And yes, you should respond to comments that are obnoxious, unkind, or deliberately insulting to you or others — in the moment — but many of us don't. In this case, you could communicate a version of: "We've listened to you insult and degrade other people over the years and haven't spoken up. But our core values are just too different to continue our friendship."
The quality of the friendship will determine the nature of the breakup. If you spend time with people in a routine manner (where you belong to the same organizations, for instance), you would have to establish the fact that you are breaking up, because you would continue to run into them. Otherwise, quietly withdrawing from the relationship and politely turning down further contact would telegraph that you've moved on.
DEAR AMY: Every year, we celebrate Christmas at the home of my husband's wonderful parents. His siblings and their spouses are all pretty great — we're all in our late 20s, early 30s. His parents are in their late 50s and healthy. His parents put out a wonderful spread, but once the meal is over, all the "kids" retire to the other room to talk, play games, or — worse — look at their phones. I understand his parents WANT to be the hosts and WANT us to spend time together, but I find it ridiculous that none of the kids offer to help. In my family, cleanup is a team effort. I've constantly offered and tried to help, but they tell me to go enjoy everyone's company. I don't want to be "that" in-law who tells people what to do with their own family, but I think it's rude that adult children lounge around while their parents are cleaning up after a big meal that they already worked hard to prepare. I hope the kids will step up more as the parents age, but this doesn't seem to be happening yet. What do you think?
Clean Sweeping Guest
DEAR GUEST: I think you're a dream-machine of an in-law.
However, you do have to read the room. Many people absolutely do not want others in the kitchen. They have their own system and they know how to work it. It gives them pleasure to entertain in this way.
You should always help to clear the table and find other little jobs to do that don't interfere with the hosts operations. And always, always, send a note of appreciation and thanks afterward.
I also think you should do your best not to judge this other family. These generous parents have raised their children to behave as they are behaving now. If you have children, you will do things differently.
DEAR AMY: "Sad in Silicon Valley" was saddled with serious cancer and a seriously jerky husband. I was shocked — but happy — when you told her to "Thelma and Louise the heck out of this." I hope she runs fast and far.
DEAR FAN: I hope she chooses to finally live for herself.