I'm friends with the principal -- and sick of hiding it!

If people knew we were friends, they would be suspicious. Should we come out?


Cary Tennis
November 20, 2006 5:04PM (UTC)

Dear Readers,

By the way -- just a friendly note to say that I have been going over your suggestions for letters to be included in the book and they are utterly fascinating. Work is proceeding slowly but steadily. More news to come -- at irregular intervals!

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'Nuff said.

-- C.T.

Dear Cary,

In the last six months, I have become close friends with the principal at my kids' school. This woman has been principal in the district for nearly 30 years and has a history of keeping strict professional boundaries with parents and staff. She is formal with everyone in order to maintain those boundaries, and her circle of personal friends is very small and very tight.

Enter me and an unavoidable chemistry with her, and two years later she has breached her own boundaries and become a close friend. We talk every day and meet outside of school during the week and on weekends, and she has become an important confidante and advisor. We have kept it secret from the general public in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, but we have become so close now that the secrecy has become an inconvenience. Add to that the fact that other parents at the school with whom I am friendly don't know, and I find myself either lying or evading their questions so that I don't have to reveal this increasingly important relationship.

There are many consequences to the news of our friendship getting out: My children's teachers may act awkwardly around me or be less forthright because they know I'm close to their boss; other parents may think my children get preferential treatment because of my personal relationship with the school leader; opportunistic parents may see my relationship with the principal as an "in" for them and start asking me for inside information, introductions, favors. I hope it goes without saying that none of these issues is real, but they will be perceived as real by some of the parent population once the word gets out.

Last night, the principal and I met over wine and a backgammon board and ended up in one of our myriad conversations about what we call "coming out." She seems ready to do so and has told her best friend about our relationship. Yesterday she tried to tell the vice principal but was interrupted by her secretary. She also says that keeping it a secret makes her feel like she's doing something wrong when she's not. So tomorrow I have the task of telling my closest parent friend, who also happens to be the mother of my daughter's best friend, that I have a new dear friend and it's our school's principal. I'm meeting her for coffee in the morning but cannot figure out how to frame this without hurting her (i.e., explaining the reasons for the secrecy of the last six months without, in effect, putting my friendship with this parent in an unfavorable perspective).

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Any thoughts on a) whether we should come out at all; b) how we should go about it; c) what repercussions we should expect? We have exhausted this topic between us and can't come up with any answers/solutions that make both of us happy.

Happy but Hidden in Honolulu

Dear Happy but Hidden,

There are times I run letters simply because they fascinate me, and this is one of them. I have no idea what you should do, but the fact that this is a problem just fascinates me. I may simply be ignorant about the sensitivity of such a situation, since I have no kids. Or you may have expressed something that many people are aware of but few talk about.

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Would it be too rude of me to inquire: Is this a sexual relationship you are talking about? I can't tell. You mention "chemistry" and "coming out." It's possible that your use of the term "coming out" was in jest. In fact, I'm assuming it was. But I can't tell for sure. But it of course makes a difference in how people would perceive the appropriateness of it. (Have I already gone too far?)

Other than that, to me, it's really simple. Americans have the right to have friendships. Freedom of association, I think we call it. I know that's a little boneheaded of me. You are not talking about legal rights, but about the infinitely subtle consequences of perceptions in a situation that evidently is as full of sensitivity and nuance as the Heian Court.

If I were you, I would just be open about it and insist on having the friendship and not hiding it. I would also insist on accepting no special favors for your kids or anyone else's kids because of it. In fact, if possible, I would avoid discussing school policy at all. That way, you can say with a straight face that your friendship has absolutely nothing to do with school policy or favoritism. And if she is as principled a principal as you indicate, she should find it natural to exercise such discretion -- in private with you as well as in public.

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