Dear Carolyn: I have two grown sons, 34 and 31, both responsible, hardworking guys. The older is married with a 3½-year-old. The younger has never married but has two children, 2 and 6 months. They both live nearby and I have a good relationship with both and I adore all of my grandkids. I host most of the family functions and have a pool they all like to use.
The older doesn’t like or respect the younger’s girlfriend and refuses to come to any family function where she is present. He has put me in a position to have to choose whom to invite for what. I think it is an immature and petty position to take on his part but am torn about how to handle it.
Carolyn says: Your older son has taken a stand, but you put yourself in the position of having to choose.
You also had, and still have, the option of letting this son know you won’t rig invitations to suit him; say you’ll treat both brothers and partners as family members of equal standing. Because they are: Disliking someone’s mate does not change the laws of family physics.
Now, if the younger’s girlfriend harmed your older son or his family, then that does change things, so ask him if that’s the case.
Otherwise it’s time to state (apparently, and I think rightly) your principle: Family means accepting you won’t always like who everyone brings into the fold. Explain that you can’t stop him from boycotting — and are saddened by his family’s absence — but unless there’s more to the story, you won’t enable such a divisive choice.
The ex factor
Dear Carolyn: I strongly suspect I will run into my ex-girlfriend at an upcoming party, which promises to be awkward and uncomfortable. She basically left me for another man while I was prepping for my board certification exams, and we clearly weren’t going to remain friends. She and I haven’t spoken in more than a year.
Telling her how badly she acted obviously won’t fly in a party setting. But as I try and fill the time with her with pleasantries, do I ask how her work is going when I really don’t care? Should I wish her and her new boyfriend well when I don’t mean it? Should I fake that everything is cool between us when it’s anything but and she broke my heart big-time and owes me a huge apology?
I’m all for not making waves, but there’s also a point when faking politeness is so transparent that it doesn’t seem worth it. Should I avoid her altogether at the party, talk with her and fill the time with platitudes, or tell her how I really feel and that we should talk about it another time?
Carolyn says: Avoiding her, faking pleasantries, telling her off — all of these have a significant negative element. Do you really want to be the guy who hides, lies or scolds?
You didn’t give me the one option I was looking for: Say hello and keep on walking.
She might approach you, of course, but for that you can have a clear but courteous response ready, along the lines of, “[Honest compliment to show decency.] Please excuse me; I’d rather not talk.” Walk away.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.