Hello Polite Readers,
This week's topic is a doozy. What do you do when you're in a committed relationship, and a friend who you both socialize with clearly has a crush on your mate? Of course our natural reaction is to say something along the lines of the title of this post. "Back off!" or "Get your own man!" but that's not really polite, now is it? But you want to say or do something, because inaction can seem like approval.
Relationship advice isn't really my specialty, so I'm going to suggest that if you're worried about setting boundaries with your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend that you go seek out someone who really knows their stuff. This will be all about handling the crusher.
Example 1: The Serial Crusher
This person develops a crush on just about anyone that shows attention to them and is of the gender they find attractive, regardless of how much they have in common or whether the crushee has done anything to encourage them. They may maintain simultaneous crushes on every applicable person in their vicinity, or they may bounce from dreamboat to dreamboat. Either way, don't stress much about this person because it's not personal and they probably won't do anything more than flirt shamelessly. At some point, you or your SO may need to say "Oh hey, not interested" but otherwise if you both ignore the flirtation and the crushee doesn't flirt back, it should die down.
Example 2: The One Who Flat-Out Admits It
Is there anything ickier than when someone tells you that your spouse is so hot that they rate right along this person's celebrity crush? I mean sure, it's a compliment to your ability to land a hot mate (I guess?), but when that person always talks about their fantasies about said celebrity crush, you really don't want to think about them having similar thoughts about your spouse. When someone says something like this to you, I would not at all blame you if you say something along the lines of "Ha ha, yeah, I'm glad he's mine." Put a slight emphasis on the mine even. Or if applicable, say, "Yeah, but Hunky McHunkerson is actually single" while leaving the "and my man isn't" silently hanging there.
Example 3: The One Who Wants You Both
Another awkward situation for the strictly monogamous couple is when you realize that a single friend or another couple is trying to broach the subject of a three-way or partner swap. If they're being subtle about it, be equally subtle by casually mentioning how you're not at all bisexual, or how you're amazed that such-and-such is successfully managing an open relationship, because you can't imagine being with anyone other than your spouse right now. If they bring it up outright, let them down gently, because you're still friends after all. "Ewwww no, that's gross" is not appropriate. A small smile and something along the lines of "We're flattered, but that's not the sort of relationship we want to have" and then change the subject.
Side note: This advice assumes that you're not into it. If you are, that's another one where you'll want to seek out the advice of an actual expert on how to do it right.
Example 4: The One Who Thinks They're Totally Subtle
This person doesn't do anything as blatant as sending you texts about how hot your spouse is. They didn't drunkenly kiss your boyfriend on New Year's Eve and then claim not to remember it the next day. But it's still obvious that they're crushing on your mate, because somehow at every party they end up sitting next to him or her. There's constant IM or FB conversations, not about anything sexual, but with a certain level of emotional intimacy. They bring little presents for your spouse, remember their birthday and favorite color. While the crush may have originally been fostered by some shared interests, now they're suddenly into his favorite band, her favorite TV show, and reading all the same books.
This is the most annoying thing, because if you complain, suddenly you're the unreasonable, jealous one. After all, nothing is actually happening, and don't you trust their mate? YOU have opposite-sex friends, why can't they? Ugh. You're left to either pretend you're fine with a situation that makes you uncomfortable and wait for it to inevitably fall apart one way or another, or you get to look like the bad guy when you "force" your spouse to dial-back the friendship.
So what do you do? First you go find that good advice on dealing with your spouse, and you have a conversation about how s/he needs to set some boundaries with the crusher and they can't hang out alone together. Be prepared to hear all of the above things and more. It may turn into a fight. People don't like it when they think they're being told who they can and cannot be friends with, even if they don't return the crush and you aren't saying they can't be friends, you're just saying dial it back a notch.
Next, talk with the crusher. Don't be accusatory, give them the benefit of the doubt. "I'm sure you don't mean it that way but lately some of your behavior towards Lee has been pretty flirtatious and I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea." I mean gosh, wouldn't it be so embarrassing if someone else noticed and came to you to warn you that your SO might be cheating? Let that idea sink in.
At times, it may be possible and appropriate to re-direct, too. Maybe the person crushing on your SO is lonely and really drawn to people like your partner, and maybe you guys just happen to have another friend who is single and shares a lot of the same qualities that makes your mate so attractive. Have a big party. Invite them both. Let them know that they both love Battlestar Galactica. Maybe sparks will fly! Or maybe it will at least remind the crusher that there are other fish in the sea, and they shouldn't go after one who has already been hooked.
Do you have an awkward situation you need help addressing? Drop me a line at Politelyworded@gmail.com and you could be in one of my upcoming columns!