For the past several years, I've ended most weekends with Sunday supper at my friends' house. She cooks a meal for the three of us, her husband, me and herself. We eat the food. I help clean up.
The whole time, we catch up on what may have happened in the past week and what's coming up in the next week. It's pleasant.
When they were younger, her stepsons were there. As they grew older and developed their own lives and schedules, her stepsons, the younger in his late 20s and the older in his early 30s, now come by occasionally to share the meal.
My problem is, I'm becoming afraid of the older stepson. He's simultaneously shy and grandiose. He's immature. He doesn't have many social skills. He recently, a long time after graduating with honors in a liberal arts program, got a pretty good job. So after years of free-floating anger and depression [it seemed to me] and threatening suicide [to his father], his life is improving. He's happier.
So what does he do? He buys an assault rifle.
He also has a pistol, which he once brought over to show his father while I was there. He and his brother were drinking beer at the time. I left.
One reason I feel I must stop going to my friends' house when their older son is there is the impossibility of the weapons situation. His parents do not want him to have weapons. But they know that if they become too vocal, he'll just stubbornly dig in and maybe stop dropping by. And anyhow, he's in his 30s, a legal adult.
While my friend and I have talked about the weapons, I really don't know how to start a conversation about no longer coming to Sunday supper. For a lot of reasons, it's a touchstone for us and our friendship. As well, it's not as if the weapons are there. But their son often is. And I'm afraid.
How do I do this, Cary?
It would be a shame if your friendship fell apart because of the son. Work through this. If relations are uncomfortable for a time, work through it. Emphasize that you want the tradition to continue but that at times the stepson makes you nervous.
People's kids grow up and become who they are, and we don't always like them.
But the stepson is family.
Share with your friends what you are feeling. Emphasize that you are afraid that if you share what you are feeling it will hurt the friendship or mean you can't come over for Sunday meals anymore. Tell them upfront that this is difficult for you, and be careful with your words. Be careful not to set any preconditions, but just tell them of your discomfort, your fears, your concerns for the stepson's well-being, and how much you value your Sundays together.
Underneath this is a fear that he will hurt someone, that he might hurt you, and that he may also hurt himself. That is not a crazy fear. It is understandable. Your friends may be pushing that fear out of their heads but it is probably in the air. So, in the interest of friendship, find a way to express this, too. Ask how they feel about how their stepson is doing. They might take umbrage if you ask if they are afraid of him, or afraid he may commit suicide. So go gently into this area. Give them a chance to talk about it. Don't push it.
Emphasize that you aren't necessarily looking for a solution but are just hoping to deepen the friendship, that first and foremost you want to continue the friendship because it means so much to you.
One thing you might also do is suggest they come to your house for dinner once in a while. They will probably enjoy the change. And in your own home, you can be quite clear about not having guns. If the stepson should come over, you can tell him no guns. You don't have to put up with things in your own home that you have tolerated in their home.
If you use your words carefully, do a lot of listening, and offer to reciprocate on the dinners, you may clear the air and strengthen the friendship.