Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Chinqua Penn Dwarfs

On Saturday, I took a mini road trip to the lovely Chinqua Penn Plantation in Reidsville. According to our tour guide, the plantation has been featured on A&E's America's Castles and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a 27-room English countryside mansion filled with elaborate furnishings from 30 countries.

Unfortunately, photography isn't allowed inside the house, so I don't have pictures of the 15th century Chinese frescos, or the Louis the XVI Chippendale style furniture, or the 700-year-old East Indian marble relief. All of which I highly recommend seeing.

However, I was able to photograph these unusual and slightly unsettling statues. (Perhaps the implicit message is "don't smoke or your growth will be stunted"?)

HTT, I don't like someone my husband works with, and she wants to be my friend.

Dear HTT:

I am very good friends with the wife of one of my husband’s colleagues. The guys don’t really work together, but they’re both in the same division of the company, they know and like each other, and introduced me and Madeline at a Christmas party hosted by another colleague a few years ago. Madeline and I have a lot in common and have hit it off.

Madeline’s husband has an ex-wife who also works with the guys in the same division of the company, in the same branch as my husband. My husband doesn’t know the ex-wife too well, but says she’s nice and she’s friend with my husband’s boss because their kids all attend the same small private school. I met the ex-wife a few months ago at an office Christmas party. She did seem nice, but kind of weird also--she raved about a pie I made two years earlier for an office pot luck, telling me what a great cook I was to the point that I was a little uncomfortable and embarrassed. It was overdone. I’ve since seen her at a few functions hosted by my husband’s boss. We have polite exchanges and that’s about it. I still think she’s weird.

Lately, the ex-wife has started aggressively pursuing contact with me through my husband. She dropped by his office recently to give him a copy of “Pomegranate Soup” which she wanted him to pass along to me. She thought I’d like it because the novel includes recipes. Today she approached my husband and told him she wanted to get to know me better, she wanted to have lunch with me, and asked my husband what my schedule will be over the next few weeks so she could call and set something up.

My friend Madeline has never met the ex-wife. Apparently the divorce was amicable, but they aren’t friends and have no contact. The ex-wife married a guy that works in another division. Despite all these damn work-related social functions, I’ve never seen the two couples at the same party let alone in the same room.

The ex-wife told my husband today that she was going to call me to set up a lunch date. I’m really not interested--her interest in me seems out of place given what little we know about each other plus I see potential for awkwardness given that I am close to her ex-husband’s wife. I honestly don’t know if the ex-wife is aware of my friendship with Madeline, it is very possible she doesn’t know anything about it. My guess is she would want to know (I would if I were in her shoes).

What would you do in this situation? What could I tactfully say to get out of going to lunch yet not burn a bridge (given all these work-related social events)?

Too Many Wives

Dear Too Many,

Oh what tangled webs and all that. To be honest, this situation befuddled me to such an extent that I’ve put off answering your question, while waiting to be struck by a flash of brilliance. Sadly, no such flash has occurred, but I will procrastinate no longer.

To start, let me try to break this down to the basics:

  1. You like Madeline.
  2. You’re not crazy about Madeline’s husband’s ex-wife, whom, for the sake of space, I’ll call “Jane.” (Although I can understand why it might be awkward to befriend Jane, I’m not really clear why you object to her personally. But that’s neither here nor there. I’ll take your word for it.)
  3. Your husband works with Jane, albeit it not closely.
  4. Jane is friendly with your husband’s boss.

It would be easy for me to say that life is too short to spend your free time with people you don’t particularly like. And while I whole-heartedly believe that, I’m not naive. I understand the exigencies of a social life that revolves, at least in part, around your husband’s colleagues. I’m guessing that because of the interconnectedness of this group and the variety of functions at which you’re likely to bump into all involved, you have to make nice.

First, yes, I would tell Jane that you’re friends with Madeline. Just say something like, “I wasn’t sure if you already knew, but I wanted to clear the air. I hope my relationship with Madeline doesn’t make you too uncomfortable.” If you’re lucky, it will and Jane will decide on her own that a friendship with you would just be too odd.

Or, depending on what Jane’s like, you might be able to get away with claiming awkwardness as a reason for not pursing a friendship with her. If you think she would see the logic in that and not take it personally, you could avoid burning that bridge.

If not, then, you’re left with figuring out how to be polite to Jane—since she works with your husband, is friends with his boss, and will likely see you at future social gatherings—while encouraging as little social interaction as possible. Can you say yes to an occasional lunch or coffee date, but turn down her invitations more often than not, pleading a hectic schedule? I imagine that she would eventually give up. I hate to admit that I’ve taken this very tack in several similar circumstances. I warn you that this isn’t the sort of behavior that will make you feel good about yourself. But short of saying, “I don’t like you very much and would rather not spend time with you,” I can’t think of a way other than the passive avoidance I’m recommending here.

Perhaps by now you’ve already got this conundrum all worked out and, if so, I’d love to hear how you managed!