Hear No Evil

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have the same problem in two areas of my life: a new friend who is
also a neighbor I genuinely like and trust, and a person I have just
started dating and, while I don’t know how fast or deep it will go, is
certainly the most interesting person I have met in a long time. In
each case the person has a teenaged chills from a prior marriage and
in each case I have heard from my friend about the problems with
their ex, and with the difficulties of creating a solid ongoing
relationship with a child who lives part of the time with someone who
bears them great enmity. The problems that the exes create
(according to the new friends) are both emotional and financial, and in
each case my new friend presents themselves as a relatively private
person and their ex as a person who trash-talks them publicly for
their ostensible failures as a parent. The evidence is that when I have
said to my old friends that I am befriending the new friends, I have
heard things like” I hear s/he…isn’t paying for her son’s college……or
He doesn’t take enough time to spend with his kid….or He doesn’t even
have a set-aside bedroom for the child who has shared custody with.”
How should I respond?

Hear No Evil

Dear Hear No Evil:

I get letters about a lot of problems that are nuanced and require
carefully articulated responses for people to try to communicate to
others in difficulty emotional circumstances. Generally it is harder to
deal with problems that affect your direct interpersonal relationships
with people than it is to discuss third parties. You are in a position not
only to communicate with people that are old friends in ways that set
or reinforce your standards about gossip and trash-talking, but also to
perhaps influence the loose talk about your new friends.

Your answer should be short and sweet: I know s/he and the ex have
a tough relationship. I have heard a different version of things. I’m not
saying one side or the other is all right or all wrong. But I am saying
there’s absolutely more than one side to the issues. And while the ex
may be vocal and my new friend may be less so, I’d be careful about
believing everything you hear. I’m not going to. Before you repeat this
gossip, I suggest you ask my new friend directly when you meet
him/her, and then draw your own conclusions. They’re unlikely to be
so direct, but odds are they’ll stop talking badly about your new friend,
at least to you.