Dear Dr. Fred:
My partner and I have a dilemma we don’t ever recall seeing in your column before … namely, our best friends are driving us crazy! We’ll call them Hank and Harry here for privacy reasons. Hank and my partner are both nurses at the same hospital but work on different units. We all connected at the annual employee Christmas party 10 years ago and hit if off immediately. The four of us had so much in common and enjoyed each other’s company so much that we soon became inseparable, dining out, theatre-going, golfing, and even vacationing together at the timeshare we bought with them. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that Hank and Harry have some maddening “quirks.” The most frequent one is that they’re always correcting each other’s stories, over details that don’t even matter. Hank will say “We went to the antique mall last Tuesday,” and Harry will butt in and say “No it was Wednesday,” like the day actually matters. Then Hank will come back at him and argue the point until they’re both shouting, and my partner and I have knots in our stomachs.
Another quirk is that they’re constantly keeping score of what the other has done to be helpful. Harry will say “While you’re up Hank would you pour me another cocktail?” And Hank will say “I made the last one, so this one is your turn. ” Then of course, Harry will argue the matter. “Well, I made you three drinks last night and you didn’t make me any.” And off they go again.
Finally – and here’s the biggest issue – for some time now they’ve been pestering us to have a four way. It all started last summer when we were on vacation at our timeshare, and things got a little flirtatious in the hot tub after a few too many drinks. Nothing really happened, just some switching partners and kissing, till we all came to our senses and stopped. But it seems that started something, and now they often hint about “wanting to finish some unfinished business with us,” always after several cocktails. We just laugh and change the subject, but they soon bring it up again, and we’re getting tired of it.
We really love these guys and cherish their friendship, plus we own a timeshare with them, so we don’t want to do anything to damage the relationship. But how do we tactfully let them know they’re driving us nuts, and we need them to make some changes in their behavior?
Sign us, “Over It”
Dear Over It:
I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a letter with a more surprising ending. I was on one wavelength as I read about your friends’ gamey communication and interactions with each other, so I was totally unprepared for the final issue, which is certainly a horse of a different color.
Starting with the easiest stuff first … Your friends’ irritating habits of correcting each other and keeping score are actually very common problems among couples gay and straight. Both behaviors are examples of what in psychotherapy we call “intimacy blockers,” the chief of which is “the need to be right.” The unconscious motivation behind this behavior is this: If I can make myself seem smarter or worthier than you then I have a certain power and superiority over you. Hopefully, when we look at them critically, most of us can recognize how counterproductive and alienating these behaviors are. Yet I’ve often been amazed at how even some very smart and loving couples engage in these petty and juvenile games with each other.
When these behaviors occur in my couples’ therapy sessions I always intervene immediately and ask the simple questions: “Does that detail really matter? Is it worth arguing with your partner? What good does one of you being right and the other one being wrong really get you in the long run?” Usually, couples see the common sense of stopping the game and I ask them to make a pact to work on not needing to be right in future. You might try this strategy with your friends.
Moving on to the heavier matter you pose, let me note that this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this predicament, and for whatever the reasons, it’s always been with male couples. My guess is the problem is rooted in the essentially exploratory nature of male sexual expression. Many men love upping the sexual ante, fantasizing new and edgier things to do sexually and testing to see what fantasies can be made into realities. If and when they do enact a fantasy, they often find the fantasy would have been better left a fantasy.
I see no other way to handle this situation but to confront it head on, gently but firmly. Tell your friends how much you love them and value their friendship, but make clear that you are not interested in having sex with them so it will never happen so you need them to stop hinting about it.
Finally, you mention frequently that many of your friends’ “quirks” manifest after multiple cocktails have been consumed, so you might suggest to them that you all drink non-alcoholic beverages more often.
Fred Schloemer, Ed.D., LCSW, is a gay psychotherapist. Send him your questions at FredSchloemer@aol.com