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Hax: Ex wants to work it out, but she's not so sure

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Dear Carolyn:

I met a man who was a year out of a decades-long marriage, and we became seriously, passionately involved, and discussed marriage. I was the first person he dated after he and his wife split.

After almost two years, he broke up with me rather than work on our problems, and immediately started dating others, settling in with one quickly.

Now, seven months later, he says he still loves me and wants to talk about resolving our problems and getting back together. The problem is he won't break up with his girlfriend (whom he says he does not love), or tell her he's talking to me. He doesn't want to risk losing her in case we decide we can't work things out, but I feel it's unethical to talk behind her back.

Am I wrong about this? Is it unethical just to talk?

— Getting Back Together

Ethical shmethical. This guy is using his current girlfriend as a bedwarmer.

If he'll dehumanize one person to serve his own selfish desires, then he'll dehumanize you — if not in this exact way, then in some other way that serves his needs at the time.

Tell him that stringing people along is despicable, and stop taking his calls.

Dear Carolyn:

My sister told me she thought my co-workers were Taiwanese and Korean, based on X and Y behaviors. They were actually from Vietnam and Hong Kong, respectively.

She told me my friend who did an Ironman race must have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder because all people who participate in Ironmans do.

She gave my husband a book for Christmas about introverts because she thinks he is one. And she just commented about a friend, Matt, who she thinks has a speech impediment. He doesn't.

I truly think she is unaware of how she comes across. She thinks these are real observations she is making and that her assessments are true. What can I say to let her know that her perceptions do not translate to universal truths?

— Annoyed Sister

Is it a universal truth that everyone who jumps to conclusions needs to be fixed?

I realize your sister's labeling habit inevitably veers into one -ist or another, with side trips into “judgmental” and “cuckoo bird.” This will sometimes hurt, offend or just mystify others, which, in turn, would affect her socially.

But seeing it as your responsibility to break her of this habit risks turning you into a milder version of her — one who reduces people to a set of traits and declares herself an expert on them. (Ahem.)

Instead, stick to case-by-case responses to opinions you find problematic. If you're close enough, you can cut straight to, “You do realize how bonkers that sounds, right?” Otherwise, play it straight: “If someone tagged my ethnicity based on X behavior, I'd find that offensive.” Or, “I doubt you'd appreciate being group-diagnosed like that.”

Make a point of being honest about your opinions, versus corrective of hers, and you'll stay on your side of the line.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

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