Jan 28, 2018
The dilemma While I was off work recently with a chest infection, my friend’s husband emailed me with the contact details of a builder I’d asked him to recommend, and I mentioned I was ill. On his way home that evening he dropped off a bunch of flowers. It wasn’t an expensive bunch and he didn’t come into the house, just handed them over on the doorstep. He is a thoughtful person so this gesture didn’t feel out of character. However, a few days later he sent me a message and asked me not to mention the flowers at a meal I’ll be going to with them and their grown-up children. This made me uncomfortable. On the one hand, he is devoted to my friend and I am gay so there’s nothing inappropriate about our relationship. On the other hand, the fact that he asked me not to mention it makes me think that it’s something my friend would be upset by. I don’t want to blow the incident out of proportion, but I also don’t want to be a bad friend. What should I do?
Mariella replies Hold fire. So far we’re looking at a questionable gesture rather than an all-out affront to your dignity. We’re all paranoid now, Catherine Deneuve suggested in response to the #MeToo campaign (before apologizing to those she’d joined in critiquing). According to the French 100 she lent her name to: “Men have been punished summarily, forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone’s knee or try to steal a kiss,” missing the point that many more women have been forced out of employment for refusing such advances. The suggestion was that the overreaction of hysterical women has left us with barely a red-blooded man prepared to slide his hand lasciviously up a woman’s thigh, let alone pop round with a bouquet.
It wasn’t just Deneuve fearing for a frisson-free future: actor Liam Neeson joined the chorus of thespians opining on matters of sexual impropriety when he identified the “witch hunt” currently ongoing, on an Irish chat show. The inference was that since Harvey Weinstein fell from his Hollywood pedestal and women from all walks of life began to speak out about the unwanted sexual attention it’s been tough out there for sexual opportunists. Instead of mourning their retirement shouldn’t we be singing Hallelujah?
With the benefit of such worldly wisdom to guide us, let’s you and me try not blur the lines. Just because your good friend’s husband turned up on your doorstep and handed you flowers, an act he’s asked you to keep from her and their children, what’s to be concerned about?
This isn’t your mess and it’s not your job to tidy up after him
My hunch, like yours, is that your friend’s husband has ulterior motives, but maybe I’m just bitter since my own husband is flower free at his own house, let alone my girlfriend’s! That said, this man’s only misdemeanour at the moment is to have asked you to keep your friend in the dark. It could certainly have been a spontaneous act of kindness and God knows we could do with more of those in the world. But even if it was a genuinely compassionate gesture, the fact that he’s embarrassed about it and trying to make you complicit in covering up suggests subtler, potentially shadier sensitivities at play.
Making too much of this small event would certainly be premature at this point. Nevertheless, now that your antenna is twitching it will be alert to any further transgressions. The fact that you’re gay doesn’t exclude you from the world of heterosexual fantasy, male and female. Only the other day I heard a young man detailing his surprise at how he’d found Grindr to be little more than a procurement site for married men to exercise their homosexual tendencies. It’s always been the case that the exotic, the forbidden and the unattainable have an extra appeal. We have an unerring ability to set our sights, not on healthy goals or aspirations we might possibly achieve but on lost causes. When it comes to more personal matters this can lead us into some dark corners.
In this instance, I don’t think you need to shine a torch on his motives, but if he makes a further move you’ll need to put him straight. How to do so without causing too much damage is worth addressing briefly. I’ve always found that honesty is the best policy. Should a similar advance be made with the expectation of secrecy I’d tell him that you’re uncomfortable about deceiving your girlfriend and offer him a few days in which to explain himself to her. This isn’t your mess and it’s certainly not your job to tidy up after him. If he fails to come clean you’ll be left with no alternative but to tell your friend, but I’m sincerely hoping it doesn’t come to that.
Despite mocking the earnest interventions of concerned movie dinosaurs at the start of my column there is a sliver of justifiable concern amid their musings. We don’t want to live in a world where every gesture is perceived as a sexual affront. It’s up to all of us to decide where and when to draw that line. There is always the possibility that his bid for secrecy is because he’s embarrassed by his goodness and he’s really the nicest man on the planet…