Why Can’t I Break Into My New Boyfriend’s Friend Group?


My boyfriend and I have been dating for nearly a year. It’s going really well! But his close-knit group of friends is not welcoming to me. They are all bilingual, and when they hang out together, they speak Spanish. I am studying Spanish, but when people speak quickly or use slang, I can’t follow the conversation. Even beyond the language barrier, though, they don’t seem all that interested in getting to know me. My boyfriend has asked what he can do to help, but I’m not sure. I’m afraid his friends may resent me if he asks them to switch to English when I’m around. We’re about to go on a two-week vacation with the whole group, and just thinking about the trip makes my stomach hurt. Help!

GIRLFRIEND

Breaking into a close-knit group — one that speaks a different language, no less — and managing to thrive is a heavy lift. I’m sorry you feel excluded, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the group to change its longstanding dynamics to accommodate you (other than occasionally). Nor do I think it’s reasonable for you to take that personally: You are still more group-adjacent than a member in your own right.

A better approach here may be for you to take some initiative and try to befriend group members individually. Invite one or two of them for coffee and get to know them better. They will probably speak English with you, and you will start to form personal relationships that may soon color the group dynamic.

Now, as for your upcoming vacation, you probably don’t have enough time to carry out this divide-and-conquer strategy before you leave. But perhaps you can try it on holiday: Invite individuals to breakfast or for walks. When you break down a seemingly impenetrable group into its component members, they often become more open and friendly.

I started a night class at a local university, and to my dismay, a former co-worker is also enrolled. He was fired several years ago by my company after setting fire to his apartment during a mental health crisis. He was given a long prison sentence because he put other residents of the building at risk. I hadn’t noticed him in class, but he said hello to me during a break. I felt awkward because of his terrible crime and his failure to mention it. I’ve been avoiding him since then. I understand that he paid his debt to society, so how should I handle this?

STEVE

So, in your view, people who commit crimes (or who have mental health crises) should be shunned for eternity? I don’t believe you risk any harm by returning this man’s pleasantries, and, personally, I think it would have been odd for him to launch into an explanation of his years-old crisis. Do you share your worst moments with acquaintances?

I would reframe this story: A man in dire straits committed a crime. He paid his debt to society, presumably got help for his mental illness and is trying to better himself by taking a night class. That sounds like a success story to me. I suggest you “handle” this situation by behaving civilly.

My husband and I have been married for 25 years. I adore him! He has gained a considerable amount of weight in the last five years, and it’s been accelerating recently. He is a sensitive person, and I don’t want to hurt him. But he also has medical issues, and I worry about his health. His doctor told him to lose weight, but he hasn’t. How can I broach the subject without being judgmental or hurtful?

WIFE

I sympathize with your concern about your husband’s health. But it is no secret to him that his doctor advised him to lose weight. He was the recipient of that advice, and a reminder from you probably serves little purpose. Still, you are entitled to share your worries with your spouse. But they don’t trump his autonomy over his body.

What may be more productive here is a sincere offer to help your husband look more closely at his diet and exercise regimen with an eye to improving them. If he takes you up on your offer, terrific! If not, there isn’t much more for you to do about this (other than to look after your own emotional well-being).

I am a cisgender male and attended an event for a feminist organization. A vast majority of attendees were women. I was there as an ally. During a break, I needed to use the bathroom. But all the bathrooms had been designated for use by all genders, and there were long lines for the stalls. So, I decided to use a trough-style urinal and not take up space in the line. But as soon as I began to go, I felt a palpable sense of unease in the room. Had I broken an unspoken rule?

UNZIPPED

So, in the name of being an ally, you exposed yourself to all the women (and girls) who had to pass the urinals on their way to the bathroom stalls. What a self-centered decision! You didn’t break an “unspoken rule.” You exposed yourself.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on X.





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