Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. An unwanted guest: For the past year, I’ve been hosting a smallish monthly dinner group that tries different restaurants in our area. It’s a public event with a shareable invitation. I’ve always felt the more the merrier—until recently. An ex of mine has attended the past two and has made a few people uncomfortable. His “playful” comments come across as sexually charged in today’s culture. He has a tendency to “hold court” and take over the table conversation. I’ve had three female friends tell me at a brunch the following morning that none of them were comfortable giving him a hug goodbye the night before.
“Dicapryus” is a good person, is highly intelligent, but lacks the ability to read a room and act accordingly. We dated for 10 months and have remained friends, but we broke up because of his general unwillingness to compromise. I’m unsure how to go forward. If the dinner group remains public, then of course “Dicapryus” will see and may attend the event. I worry this could discourage other people from attending. If I make the events private, that limits sharing and visibility, which is not my goal. Also, he will ask what happened to the dinner group.
Should I keep it public but tell him he’s not invited? I’m honestly not trying to hurt the guy, but it’s not like the subject hasn’t been broached before. Or should the other attendees just suck it up and understand that not everybody behaves perfectly all the time? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?
A: You claim that Dicapryus just doesn’t know how to read a room, but you also say that “it’s not like the subject hasn’t been broached before,” which tells me that he’s not quite as clueless as you’d like to pretend. Since you’re the host of this event, you carry at least some responsibility for making sure that all attendees can abide by a reasonable set of rules regarding comfort and safety. You’ve heard from three separate guests that your ex makes them physically uncomfortable. That’s sufficient reason to think that it’s not just a question of “behaving perfectly all the time,” but a bad apple who’s going out of his way to test everyone’s boundaries, both collectively and individually, to see what he can get away with. You can either do something about it yourself now, or wait until your guests decide you’re not much of a host and stop accepting your invitations.
When it comes to what you should do next, I suppose it all depends on just how much you actually object to his behavior. Do you really think that his comments are playful, that there’s something wrong about “today’s culture” that reads those comments as sexually charged, that he’s really incapable of reading other people’s reactions to his behavior and never meant to see what he could get away with? Because if that’s the case—if you really think he’s just a social liability but not that he’s done anything rude, overly sexually aggressive, or inappropriate for a casual supper club—then you’ll have to decide whether you want to jettison him in order to save face, or potentially lose some of your other friendships in order to defend him. But when I read between the lines here, what I see is this: You do understand, on some level, why some of your friends have objected to his behavior, and you’re afraid of pushing back against him because you know he’s stubborn. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say “I can’t invite you out to dinner again because of X, Y, and Z comments/behaviors, which some of the other guests have complained to me about.”