Dear Ann Cannon • A close friend of mine just got engaged to a man who is abusive. I don’t know if he is physically abusive, but he shoved her onto a scale after lunch and humiliated her for how much she weighed, claiming controlling her weight was his “right” and that “no one married to me will get fat when they’re pregnant.” He often uses every racial epithet along with pledging his allegiance to the inhabitant of the Oval Office for “telling it like it is.” He’s also cheated, he makes her pay for everything and is terribly exploitative. I don’t know what to do. Any advice?
— Frantic Friend
Dear Frantic • Well, you could tell her to RUN FOR THE HILLS before it’s too late, but she probably won’t listen to you — not at this stage of the game. The fact that she’s actually engaged to this guy means she’s willing to put up with his bad behavior.
OK. It’s one thing not to like a friend’s significant other because he or she roots for the wrong team (the Patriots! Ugh!) or has terrible taste in music or even supports a politician you despise. It’s another thing when so many red flags pop up you feel like you’re standing on the sidelines of a May Day parade.
Does this mean you should share your concerns with your friend? In this case I think you should. Gently. You don’t want her to feel further attacked.
How should you proceed? Tell your friend how much you value her and why. Specific compliments are always more powerful than general ones. Ask her what it is about this particular relationship that makes her feel valued. Then (remember — gently) ask her how she feels when her fiancé shames or takes advantage of her. Remind her that no one deserves to be demeaned.
Frankly, I don’t think a conversation like this will change her mind about her fiancé right now. She may believe she’s fundamentally unlovable and thus welcomes his attention. His controlling behavior may even feel like love to her, which obviously it isn’t. And the reality is she’ll probably end up being defensive and angry with YOU for even bringing up the subject.
But as things play out, I think it will give you a certain peace of mind to know you reached out to her early on. Meanwhile, stay in touch with your friend — even if she’s angry with you — so she knows your love for her isn’t conditional.
Dear Ann Cannon • Our mother, who’s in her 80s now, is a very different person than she was when we were growing up. She was always vivacious and energetic and had a great sense of humor, all of which made her a lot of fun to be around. These days, however, she’s pretty weepy and depressed and even kind of angry at the world.
Mom still loves to see her family, though, which is why my siblings and I do our best to be in touch with her. Everyone, that is, except for one sister. Mom has mentioned she’d like to see this sister more frequently. When I shared this with her, my sister broke down and said it’s just really hard for her to see how changed Mom is. I didn’t know if I should slap her or cry along with her. Any advice for getting this sister to “man up”?
— Exasperated Sibling
Dear Exasperated • While my own mother always says it’s a privilege to grow old, she’ll also acknowledge it ain’t all that much fun. Aging presents lots of challenges — both for the individual and for the people who love that individual. While I sort of feel like slapping your sister, too — not that I make it a habit to slap other people’s sisters — I really do understand how she feels.
All I can say is this: When your mother dies, your sister will regret her decision to keep her distance during the last stage of the race. Tell her I said so and hand her a copy of this column.