Should I invite my difficult friends to the in-laws' lake house?

I'm concerned that my pushy, sensitive friend and her husband, who has Asperger syndrome, won't fit in.

Published May 21, 2007 11:07AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

A lifelong friend was married last year. I am happy that she found someone. Truth be told, it came as a surprise -- she can be extremely difficult. She is forceful and opinionated and doesn't back down. Many people have been turned off by her insistence. We have lived on opposite coasts for more than a decade. Our friendship is conducted mostly over the phone. This works best for our friendship, as it allows us to discuss common interests without the pitfalls that in-person hangouts can bring.

Last year I flew to her wedding. I was looking forward to meeting her husband-to-be for the first time. From my experience, meeting the new partners of old friends has been joyful -- "You love this person, I love this person, we have a connection!"

Upon arriving at her hotel, I knocked on the door, and he answered. He opened the door and stood there. I greeted him with a warm "You must be the fiancé!" He stood there. He didn't make eye contact, he didn't say a word. He finally turned and walked into another part of the room.

I was miffed. I thought him to be rude. A simple "hello" would have sufficed. For the next few days I was preoccupied with this strange encounter. After the reception a group of us went out for a nightcap. Conversation quickly turned to the groom. It turns out he has Asperger syndrome.

My friend never shared this with me. It explains why he didn't say a word to me during their entire wedding weekend, but I feel as though my friend could have given me a heads-up or at least some explanation that I shouldn't expect to communicate with him. "What's up with the guy you're marrying?" seems a strange question the night before a wedding, although in hindsight that's exactly what my friend would have said to me, had I been the bride.

Nothing's been discussed. She has been pressing me to meet up at my in-laws' vacation home, something that had been discussed before her wedding. My in-laws are lovely people. They are also very sociable and the experience of their summer house hinges on marathon porch talk. One part of me feels that my pushy friend is being pushy and wants a vacation. That is definitely true. But there is this other part of me that doesn't want to bring my pushy friend and her silent husband to the lake house. I don't want to be the one with the guests who didn't fit in. I am afraid of arguing with her and having a bad time. I'm afraid that I am uncomfortable around her husband, although it's probably caused by disability. I'm reminded that my friendship may be best kept over the phone, and that there are two issues here, the high-maintenance friendship and the husband. But I know she is going to ask again about the summer house. She knows I spend time there every year. My friend is as sensitive as she is pushy. So I know she'll ask, and then I know she'll be hurt. Can you see a way around it?

Long-Distance Friend

Dear Long-Distance Friend,

No, I can't see any way around it. People who are pushy but sensitive get their feelings hurt. You have to say no to them, because they don't get it when you scratch your chin and say you'll think about it or wonder aloud if there isn't a better idea. They say there's no better idea than this, what's taking you so long, sign right here. You have to tell them no and that the word no you are using is the traditional word no and you are using it in the traditional sense of its meaning no. Or, as Albert Einstein replied when asked if he wanted some coffee: no.

Know no, know peace. No no, no peace.


But know this, too: Pushy people deal. They have to. They learn. Even if she is very sensitive, you can be sure that she is at least accustomed to being told no and having her feelings hurt and moving on with her pushy but sensitive life.

But about the Asperger syndrome and the in-laws: Can you talk to the in-laws at all? I mean can you put sensitive issues before them without being misunderstood as to your motives? Are your in-laws dispassionate or do they jump to conclusions? Some people, if you tell them about your dilemma, will jump to the conclusion that you are asking them to go out of their way to let these socially difficult people come out to the lake house for a week but you're too bashful to come right out and say it, and the next thing you know they've invited the socially difficult couple for a week at the lake house, and then for that whole week at the lake house there is tension and stiltedness and strange, muffled snorts and hunched shoulders and shoe-shuffling and mute staring into space in doorways and drinks undrunk and games unplayed and puns ungotten, and you get blamed for it and you're banned from the lake house forever although it's never spelled out that you're actually banned, it's always some technical difficulty or other, which drives you slowly mad and you expire of exasperation at an early age.

This could happen.

So think carefully before you talk to your in-laws. Or, better yet, now that I think about it, don't even talk to them. You know the answer: Don't invite these people to the lake house. You will be uncomfortable and your in-laws will be uncomfortable. That's not what the lake house is for. It would violate the spirit of the lake house. The lake house, as you say, is for long and relatively chipper conversation on the porch.

If you yourself want to get to know her and her husband better, find a venue in which you can do that.

Now, as you may have observed, although I am not overly superstitious, I do take note of synchronicity in daily life. And it just so happens that as I am attempting to respond to you I have been standing in the kitchen speaking with a woman who has five children, two of whom have Asperger and one of whom is autistic. We just met today. Such coincidences happen frequently to me, and while I do not ascribe them to the deliberate workings of a supernatural being, I do try to take advantage of them. So we have been discussing her children, how different from each other they are, how one keeps to himself and the other is quite social, but both, of course, having Asperger syndrome and thus behaving in ways that others must take some time getting used to. Of course this puts a very human face on things. The point is that if you feel bad because you are excluding this person from certain activities because of his condition, you are encouraged to work to better understand this condition and educate others about it and work to improve the lives of people with Asperger.

An encounter like this provides an excellent opportunity to begin doing that. But bringing the pushy, sensitive wife and the husband with Asperger out to the lake house is not the way to do it.

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