Tell Me

Does boyfriend have a right to veto this friendship?

January 22, 2013 

Dear Carolyn: For two years, I have been seeing a man I care about very much. We’ve had a tumultuous, on/off relationship due to some mistakes I made early on that he wouldn’t forgive.

Now he says he is ready to give the relationship another shot, with this caveat: I cannot ever spend time with my best friend. He has met her only once but never liked her due to a bad first impression and because I told him she participated in some illegal activities.

She has been a wonderful friend for my entire life and has cleaned up her act for the most part. I feel he has no right to demand this.

Should I consider this a red flag of a controlling person? – Trouble in Tennessee

Carolyn Says: These are your words, so say them: “You have no right to demand this of me.” Controlling people exploit those who hesitate to stand up to them. (Homework assignment: “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker.)

Maybe this “best friend” is your drug dealer, to use an extreme example, and he’s right – or, on the other extreme, your friend just did stupid, youthful stuff.

He has a right to dump you for refusing him, of course.

But I suspect he won’t. Those two “on/off” years, his reluctance to “forgive” your “mistakes” and this best-friend ban suggest he’s getting exactly what he wants: a sense of control by giving and withholding affection to reward or punish you as he sees fit.

Since the drug-dealer scenario sounds like a stretch, I think you have to break up with him, decisively.

It’s not that you’re above improvement – who is? – or that your friend’s mistakes weren’t serious. It’s that he thinks it’s his place to fix you. How is that not controlling?

Apologize sincerely

Dear Carolyn: What is the right way to apologize to a significant other? I favor apologies that offer an explanation and leave room for discussion: “I’m sorry I got mad at you for not taking the trash out, but I don’t like having to remind you each time.” He wants apologies with no strings attached. What’s the best way? – I’m Sorry, But …

Carolyn Says: The only “right” way to apologize is sincerely. “Sorry, but …” exposes insincerity.

You have a point, too, though, if he’s using your poor behavior to get away with his.

Apologizing sans asterisk for anything you genuinely regret will cure both of these responsibility dodges: “I’m sorry I lost my temper,” period. So will admitting when you’re not sorry: “Actually, I’m not sorry I got angry, because I’m outraged at being the default housekeeper.”

Always separate any unfinished business from your apology – even if you make it the next thing you say: “I’m sorry I wigged out. Obviously this trash thing is pushing my buttons. I’d like your help in coming up with a solution.”

Send email to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

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