Adapted from online discussions.

 

Dear Carolyn: You once wrote that “secrecy and privacy are not the same thing.” Can you articulate the difference? My husband is a very private person. I think it veers into secrecy but he disagrees. This is mainly an issue of what he tells or doesn’t tell his family, and the subsequent conversational minefields I have to navigate. Having gotten to know his family, I understand why he does it, but on occasion, I’m thunderstruck at the lack of openness with the people he’s supposedly closest to.

Carolyn says: I see privacy as not sharing information with people that isn’t their business.

I see secrecy as not sharing information with people that is their business.

I also think it’s possible for something to fit the privacy definition and still be unhealthy — meaning, you share so little of yourself that you can’t form meaningful connections, or you starve the ones you have.

And I think you have a valid point. His keeping things from his family is his prerogative, but if he then expects you to constantly guard what you say around them, then that’s a boundary problem and an unfair burden on you.

Speak up or shut up?

Dear Carolyn: One of my best friends started seeing a woman after being alone for a long time, and our whole group was so happy for him. She seemed great at first because she is friendly and outgoing, thoughtful and giving of her time if anyone needs a favor.

But we came to find out that is only with her friends. With strangers she is downright nasty — she ridicules how they talk, their appearance, their actions if they’re slightly confused or make a mistake or ask what she considers a dumb question. And she makes a stream of mean comments even when the people can probably hear her.

I want to talk to my friend about this, but my boyfriend says I should stay out of it, and our friend is not going to break up with a good-looking woman who treats him great just because she’s snarky. I think I owe it to him to at least try. Which of us is right?

Carolyn says: Allow me to edit that for you:

“Our friend is not going to break up with a good-looking woman who treats him great just because she’s not actually nice.”

Worth running by your boyfriend, just for giggles.

Anyway, I don’t think either of you is right. Instead, please respond in the moment to any nastiness you witness, from anyone. “I think it’s offensive to ridicule the way people speak.” Or, “I’m not comfortable with this.” Or, “You know they can hear you, yes?” Or, “I doubt when you need help that you appreciate being called stupid.” Deny her the approval your silence tacitly gives, and hold up a mirror instead. It’s the decent thing to do, and it allows both the woman and your friend to adjust in real time.

If your friend responds to your objections, that can be an opening for you to talk to him about it further. It can also be your justification to stay out of it from here, since your point will have been made the best way possible: by the girlfriend herself.

 

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.