Dear Mr. Knightley,
While I was involved with a young man, I confided in him. He continually found fault in me, and I made attempts to improve myself, and encourage him in his life and work. Occasionally, he would concede that his requests were boorish (including that I should drink alcohol with him – for no other reason than he’d never seen me drink), but on the whole, I felt enslaved when I was involved with him.
I eventually escaped the involvement, but when I see him socially now (very rarely – he is a friend of a friend and so I cannot wholly avoid him), he always asks the most cutting questions, based on my confidences. He does not wish to discuss only small matters, which would help me keep my composure. He seems to regard this incisive manner as being kind, rather than being the cruel, rude, gesture it feels to me.
I sincerely regret taking him into my confidence, and the involvement on the whole – but I cannot take it back. May I ask for your advice on how to appear blithe or steer the conversation away from my confidences?
Miss Garrulous and Sorry
Dear Miss Garrulous,
That is a difficult situation you find yourself in. Here are a few practical tips that may help.
Speak to him confidentially. This would be the hardest thing to do, because it means facing him. However, this is also the only way you can ensure that he knows that what he is doing is hurting you emotionally and causing difficulties in conversation. Be frank with him, ask him to stop, and if you want to be gracious you can even say you’re sure he didn’t mean to cause distress and that’s why you’re telling him to avoid any feelings of ill will.
Now, if he knows what he’s doing is making you uncomfortable and he’s simply a massive prick and continues doing it, then you have a few options. You can attempt to avoid him as best as possible. However this will be difficult since you are in the same social circle.
You can also just out rightly ignore him and his remarks. I do warn you that this will make for extremely uncomfortable social situations at first, but at least, by not even acknowledging his remarks, you will be clearly signaling your disapproval to everyone involved, and socially the burden of justifying his remark will then be on him. In a high society situation, this usually also brings the scorn of all those around him, because he is then viewed as causing unrest in the social situation. But in a more private and intimate situation, this doesn’t work as well.
As for appearing blithe, you have two options. The first option is to laugh. Laugh at whatever remark or dig he makes. It is a well known fact that laughter can remove the venom and momentum from any remark. If you laugh at his remark you turn his wit back on him. You make him the object of ridicule. This will not work will all situations but it will work with many.
The other, though not recommended manner of dealing with his remarks is to take the fight to him. You know him intimately and if you know he is going to bring up sensitive questions about your past, then beat him to the punch. Bring up something of his. Make the same kind of remark he would make to you. While this very aggressive and has a high risk (since he may then use any of the above techniques on you, such as ignoring or laughing) it may also be helpful in showing him how he treats other. A word of warning though: do not attempt a preemptive strike in a large social situation. It has a higher risk of backfiring.
Best of Luck,