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Reaction to affair tests a friendship

Q: How do you feel about people who flip out on a friend who admits she/he had an affair? I'm in the camp of those who think a friend shouldn't condone the act, but still be supportive. (Ya know, friendlike.) My flipping-out friend thinks cheating is wrong and verbally and emotionally flips out on cheating friends. Thoughts?

A: There's nothing in the friendship bylaws that says you can't end a friendship with someone who serially and unapologetically cheats — or lies, for that matter, or otherwise treats other people like dirt. The strength of a community reflects the strength of the individual friendships within it, and so it's both natural and healthy to keep your distance from someone who knowingly undermines others for their own gain.

But, to borrow your language about your flipping friend: Who actually thinks cheating is right? For that matter, how many people who try to rationalize it even come close to succeeding? No doubt there are some, and good for the friend who has the courage to challenge any self-serving justifications.

However, when a friend admits an affair and is in any kind of perceptible pain, then flipping out on that friend isn't an act of moral righteousness, it's an act of presumption. As if the cheater needed this friend to point out that cheating was wrong.

The most "friendlike" option, in my opinion, is to take for granted that your friend knows right from wrong, and knows cheating is a mistake — or else, again, this person is not someone you'd want as a friend — and to be available to help this friend start sorting through the damage.

Keep hands

to yourself

Q: My son-in-law is a very bright, well-spoken young man. But he gestures with his hands when he's talking. This may be an accepted style in Italy, but I'd always been taught that using your hands to help make a point was a demonstration of lazy thinking; that if an effort were made to choose the appropriate words, the point would be relayed more effectively. How can I suggest to him that he keep his hands quiet when he's speaking without offending him?

A: To me, the definition of lazy thinking is taking something you were taught as a child and then, without questioning its foundation, its value, its accuracy, its significance or its relevance, using it as a weapon against the bright young man your daughter lovingly chose to bring home.

Please, in the name of reason, give him a break. By your own description, it's clear that even if your fears are warranted — an "if" of ample proportions — this is about nothing more than his appearing less bright than he is, among people who share your dim view of southern European norms and/or demonstrative expression. That's a pretty narrow band of injury, hardly worth the ill will you'll generate by trying to control a grown man's behavior, not to mention championing such a judgmental, nitpicky and, I could argue, xenophobic cause.

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Reaction to affair tests a friendship 04/23/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 11:53am]
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