Monday, July 22, 2019

The Case of the Paranoid Fiance

One thing I can guarantee. No matter who you are, when you read this letter, sent to Miss Manners, you will know instantly what Celeste should do. She should break off her engagement, throw her fiance out and run screaming for the exit. You might not be quite so certain about what her best friend should do, but you will lean strongly toward confronting her friend with the truth about her highly dysfunctional and dangerous relationship.

And yet, that is not the issue. The issue is: how do you persuade a woman who has decided to marry a monstrosity that she should break off the engagement and run for her life? If you think it’s easy, then you do not have very much human experience. 

I present the issue in these terms in order to warn against thinking that the Miss Manners subtle approach misses the point. The point is not to allow Celeste's friend to show off how clever and caring she is. The point is: how does she persuade Celeste to escape while she still can.

Here is the letter:

My close friend, Celeste, is a wonderful cook and hostess who frequently invites me, and mutual friends, over to her home for meals.

While I love Celeste dearly, her fiance makes me incredibly uncomfortable. She has told me stories in which his behavior is emotionally abusive and controlling. I have also had interactions with him at group events and at her dinner parties that have left me feeling more than unsettled.

I have tried approaching dinner party and other invitations with, "Is this a couples' party or a girls night?" and similar lines to assess whether he will be joining. I have since learned that he keeps hidden cameras throughout the home, and watches them when he is not there. He also tracks her whereabouts.

Due to this, I have determined that I will not accept any invitations at her home, and his tracking of her has prevented me from inviting her to my home, so we meet only at public places.

Celeste and I have already had a conversation about his abusiveness; however, I am wondering if there is proper etiquette for discussing my hesitation to accept invitations to her home.

I do not want to lose her as a friend, but I believe consistently declining invitations to her home, while accepting invitations to meet at restaurants and coffee shops, may be turning out to be more offensive.

We do not know what drew Celeste to a man who suffers from pathological jealousy and who surveils her night and day. He has filled their home with hidden cameras. We cannot imagine how she got herself trapped in this situation. And we do not know anything about Celeste beyond the fact that she is a wonderful hostess.

If you are in dismay over Celeste’s situation, I would point out that hidden surveillance cameras capture images that Celeste would probably not want to have exposed on social media. In other words, when your intimate photos are in someone else’s possession, that person represents a threat. And Celeste is probably thinking that if she says or does anything to upset her fiance, he will make good on what is either an implicit or explicit threat.

So, the issue is: saving Celeste, perhaps from herself.

Anyway, Miss Manners responds thusly:

Being supportive of your friends does not, Miss Manners assures you, require you to relinquish your own privacy. “You know that I have concerns about your relationship, but as your friend, I will follow your lead. However, I will not be videotaped, or tracked in my own home. So while you are in this relationship, I will have to insist on the two of us meeting in public spaces.”

Your friend will have to make her own decision about the situation, but perhaps the insanity of it can be properly conveyed by seeing it from your perspective. And the accompanying panic in your voice.

Her reasoning is clear. First, the letter writer has every right to refuse to compromise her own privacy. She can set an example and show Celeste how badly she is being treated by refusing to be treated in the same way herself. 

Second, the letter writer should make clear that she supports her friend and her friend’s decision. You might be thinking, as I am, that she would do better to sever all ties. But, consider that if she ceases to socialize with Celeste this will cause Celeste to become even more dependent on her fiance.

Third, Miss Manners understands full well that Celeste’s relationship situation is insane and abusive. And she hopes, as we all do, that Celeste will tune in to the panic in her friend’s voice and eventually come to her senses.

This feels a bit optimistic. The fiance seems to be dangerously pathological. We would like to say that Celeste’s friends should get together and to stage an intervention. Or that they should drag Celeste onto Dr. Phil’s show and hear the truth from an objective outside observer.

And we also believe that they should find a way to expose the man’s perfidy and paranoia to the world entire. Shaming him, perhaps before friends and associates, might bring him to his senses. That would involve something like this: attending a dinner party and telling each person, in strict confidence, that everything they do is being taped by cameras that the man has installed throughout the house. Are there hidden cameras in the restrooms?

This feels like a reasonably caring approach, but it might involve betraying a confidence and even losing a friend. Moreover, if friends learn that Celeste has countenanced this situation, they might very well cease to respect her.

Anyway, extricating Celeste from a horrific situation will not be an easy task. 


whitney said...

He's rich. The letter writer to Miss Manners talking about her wonderful Hostess friend is affluent. That's another piece of the puzzle

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Good observation... thank you.

Anonymous said...

This is amazing. Hordes of friends would stay away with no further ado if the friend was a Trump supporter yet they tiptoe around a creepy fiancé who fits the profile of a serial killer.

What is stopping them from going to the police and report their suspicions that they have been filmed in the bathroom on various occasions?

Sam L. said...

How has the friend spotted all these "hidden" cameras?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Fifty Shades of Fiancées,

autothreads said...

I don't know if I believe the letter writer.