Dear Carolyn: I have a friend/neighbor who I see five days a week because we exercise together. One thing that annoys me is she always manages to slip some comment about God into every conversation. It's usually a brief comment, not an entire conversation about religion, which makes it hard for me to know how to respond.
For example, if I say, "What a nice day!" she might say, "Isn't it? Thank you, God, for this beautiful weather." At first, it was easy for me to just ignore these comments, but the more time I spend with her, the more I feel like she's purposely trying to spread the Gospel but in a sneaky sort of way. If she was bringing up a full-fledged conversation about religion, I could easily just say the subject is very personal to me and I don't wish to discuss it. But since it's just little comments here and there, I don't know how to let her know it bothers me without sounding petty.
I know she has the right to express her religious beliefs however and whenever she wants, but I'm really getting tired of the God comments. Any advice?
Carolyn says: A few suggestions, which you can adopt or discard as you see fit, because that's the belief at the foundation of all advice in this column — using only what is ours to control, we all get to find our own ways to get by. Ahem.
• Since you don't "know how to respond," don't respond. Her thanking God is probably not about you anyway. And per your description, she's not engaging you on faith, she's merely expressing hers.
• Don't assume subterfuge or manipulation just because you don't understand something. Why not fill in blanks with the least judgmental option? We could all probably stand to do more of that. Q: Why does she slip God into every conversation? A: Because she's devout and she speaks as she thinks.
• Disconnect your dislike impulse from your fixing impulse. You're tired of her God comments. Fair enough — you're entitled to your preferences. But she's just as entitled to speak of God; she's not telling you what you think, she's saying what she thinks, so what gives you standing to change her? The way not to sound petty is to refrain from correcting others unless it's about you, or a matter of certainty and consequence.
• Look for the good. People are not a la carte. Any one trait you dislike is subtly (or not so subtly) interconnected with other elements of a person's nature — maybe ones you do like. So, a moody friend is also funny; an impulsive friend is also creative; an intense friend is also brave; your overtly religious friend is also [blank].
• If you no longer enjoy this friend/neighbor or these exercise sessions enough, then change your schedule. It can be awkward with a neighbor, sure, but it's your time and you get to decide how you use it.
If you still enjoy your friend/neighbor or these exercise sessions enough, though? Then here's a shortcut: Just stop. Seriously — stop this whole line of thinking, that you can somehow engineer it into something even better. Accept her company as you would any gift — as is, with thanks.
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