Ask Amy: Family secret destroys a lifelong friendship
Dear Amy: I’m holding on to a longtime family friend’s secret, and it’s very upsetting.
My friend “Chris” and I grew up together as kids. We always acted as members of each other’s extended family. We are now middle-aged.
Our mothers were friends from kindergarten on, until each of their untimely deaths, when they were in their 50s.
I was given a huge burden when my parents told me that Chris has a different father than the man who raised him and who he thought was his father.
His parents took their secret to the grave.
Does this need to stay a secret, now that his parents are dead?
Does he deserve to know?
How would he benefit if I told him now?
I stopped our friendship a few years back under the burden of knowing this. I just couldn’t handle it. Should I tell him? - Holding a Secret
Dear Holding: First of all, you don’t know if this “secret” is true. It was passed along to you by people who are not available to verify it.
Your situation is a perfect example of how destructive family secrets can be. Your lifelong friend has lost the benefit of your friendship, without knowing why. He might blame himself for your distance.
Yes, I think you should disclose this to him, but through the context of your friendship. You should frame this as a decision that the elder generation made many years ago, that unfortunately engulfed your treasured friendship.
Tell him, “I want to explain why I’ve kept my distance. My parents told this to me, and I realize that I let it create a wall between us. Now - many years later - my big regret is that I let it happen. I have no idea if this is even true, but I assume you could try to verify it if you wanted to, through DNA testing. Regardless, I hope you will accept my apology for keeping this from you. I feel terrible about my own choice, but I honestly did not know how to handle it.”
Dear Amy: I never feel like “family” at family gatherings.
I get teased for being antisocial or too quiet by my louder relatives.
They love getting together while (it goes without saying) — I don’t.
I am quiet and introverted, but their teasing doesn’t make me feel welcome or want to open up to them.
(It doesn’t help that I am queer and trans, and not comfortable being out to them — making it impossible to be myself).
The pandemic has given me an excuse not to attend family events, but the teasing continues!
Whether I attend (virtually) or not, I’m told off for being rude, shy, and antisocial.
I just can’t win.
How do I explain to my extrovert relatives that I don’t enjoy being around them as much as they think I should? - Shy Anti-socialite
Dear Shy: You don’t owe your relatives an explanation regarding your own temperament. You have the right to exist as your own authentic self, and if you can’t do that in the midst of family gatherings without being mocked and feeling put-down, then you should skip these gatherings, unless you feel strong enough to either tolerate it, or push back.
They already deride you for being “antisocial” when you show up, so maybe you should take a pass for the next few months.
Tolerate it/or push back are two choices that don’t rely on trusting your family members to change. Because you cannot trust them to change.
Yes, within your noisy family you no doubt feel very vulnerable, but I hope you will do some reading and research in order to understand and recognize the beautiful superpower your introversion grants you: You are observant. You are thoughtful. You are empathetic. You will never wound someone else with your words.
I hope you will put your energy into connecting with other empathetic people who can support you through your gender and sexuality exploration. Glaad.org has a very helpful list of supportive resources for you.
Also read the groundbreaking book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain (2012, Penguin).
Dear Amy: “On the Fence” wondered how to respond if her best friend asks if she “likes” the friend’s fiance.
I would lower the boom softly, saying something like, “No, I don’t. He doesn’t have any positive qualities that I can see.”
When (or if) the friend asks for more detail, BOOM. - IMO
Dear IMO: BOOM, indeed!