Unpleasant political rant puts cloud over an evening out
Q: My husband and I were out to dinner with a dear friend of mine and her husband when he launched into what can only be described as a political tirade — unpleasant, hostile and insulting, especially if your opinion differs from his. My husband and I have different political leanings than he, which he knows.
I was taken aback and replied "Well, I don't really agree with you, but we can still be friends, can't we?" There was a cloud over the rest of the evening.
How might I have dealt with this better, and more importantly, how I might deal with similar situations in the future?
A: I had always hoped that, when I finally came up with Just the Right Response to a tense situation, the cosmos would mark the occasion. Clouds parting, angels trumpeting, some kind of astral confetti.
Now I know that doesn't happen, though, because you would have noticed the trumpets.
Indicating your willingness to remain friends was a deft and generous way to tell someone he just put your friendship at risk. If the husband has any capacity for nuance, then his shame and regret for losing control were the substance of the cloud you described.
If the tirades continue, though, you'll need another response, one that underscores that his hostility imperils your friendship. "I respect your right to your opinions. I ask that you please show us that same respect." That way, he can make an informed decision on whether it's worth it to him to keep ranting; his wife can decide whether she's willing to say something to her husband about it; and, if the tirades continue, you can decide whether it's time to start making arrangements to see your friend one-on-one.
Staying sensitive to a friend in tight financial times
Q: A close friend in another state has been underemployed since summer and his wife is recently unemployed. He is now unable to go on a trip being planned with our close friends. Is there anything I can do to cheer them up that's more than just saying "I feel for you," but that wouldn't seem condescending?
A: If there's still time to postpone the trip, postpone the trip. It's proof you all stand by him through this.
If it's too late for that, then go for pretty reliable evidence: video. Shoot an it's-not-the-same-without-you greeting. (Remove the umbrella drinks, soaring vistas and any loose wads of cash from the picture.) I won't pretend to speak for all veterans of good times that rolled on without them, but I see such a greeting not as a reminder of what one missed, but instead a reminder that one is missed. And while a promise of another such gathering — in a rosier future — would help, visiting him on your own in the near future might be better.
Whatever you do about the trip, be sure to keep in touch regularly, so he doesn't feel toxic (a common, nasty side effect of personal implosions), but not profusely, so he doesn't feel like a charity case.
Finally, don't regard his financial horror as his unique, defining problem; it's a problem that could have been anyone's but happened to land on him. A reality check a day keeps condescension away.