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Carolyn Hax: Man’s ‘jokes’ more like a power trip

Dear Carolyn: I have been getting more involved with a friend of mine. We have a complicated history of dancing around possible romantic interest, which we have finally decided to act on.

However, I’m beginning to question his character. He told me he was a smoker, and when I interjected my surprise because I have never smelled smoke on him, he explained in great detail all the ways he goes about hiding it. I accepted this and moved on. Then, later in the evening, he laughed and said he would never smoke a cigarette!

Well, after much pulling of information from him, he told me he had been “just kidding” about smoking a pack a day.

But the scary part was that, at one point of this “joke,” I honestly couldn’t tell which was the truth. Looking back, he does this kind of thing all the time, so sometimes it is hard for me to tell if he is telling the truth. I am always honest with him, but shouldn’t this be a two-way street? Is this a sign that this relationship is one to exit gracefully?

– Liar Liar Pants on Fire

A: You just can’t take a joke, can you … fortunately, you can tell him where to stuff it.

This isn’t about lying, since he eventually does share the truth (though clearly he can lie, expertly). This is about his using your simple expectation of honesty against you for cheap yuks, and, more important, amusing himself with your ignorance for hours. What occurs during those hours isn’t a joke or a relationship – it’s a power trip.

That’s its own exit-gracefully sign.

When you do exit, expect him to try the can’t-take-a-joke tack, but don’t buy it. The whole point of a relationship is to have a safe place to be yourself, and, for this guy, your natural vulnerability isn’t enough; he manipulates you into a state of artificial vulnerability to him. Respect is another two-way street, and cruelty doesn’t even belong on the map.

It’s especially important to recognize his tactics for what they are if your “complicated history” has anything to do with losing your willpower when you’re around him. Call him a liar, and he’ll rightly want to persuade you of his innocence. If instead you say your idea of a joke is very different from his, and this difference has bothered you enough to be a deal-breaker for you, then you’re in the realm of your opinion, which isn’t his to dispute. Hang tough.

Killer breath

Dear Carolyn: I have been dating a great girl for three months now. We are compatible in many ways and I very much want to keep seeing her. The problem is that she has horrible breath. It is so bad that sometimes I can barely be near her. Absent any dramatic change, I will have to end it.

Is there any way to delicately bring this up? The only alternative is to break up with her and provide some vague “It’s not you it’s me” excuse.

– Gagging

A: Really? Telling the truth sounds so grim that you’d consider both denying yourself great company and giving her the impression you don’t like her – all while sending her off cluelessly into the world to flatten tall buildings with a single breath – just to dodge one awkward moment?

Surely you’ve given this a second moment of thought by now and come to this same conclusion: “There’s no nice way to say this, so I’ll just say it.” And then say it.

By the way – the breath could signal anything from a minor hygiene fail to a major illness, so keep an open and patient mind.


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