Dear Clementine

Sage and thoughtful advice on how to deal with competitive friends from our resident expert, Clementine.

Image Credit: Cassie / Veda House

Dear Clementine,

My husband and I love to entertain and host game nights with our friends and neighbors, but the spouse of our dearest friend is so competitive! We've tried suggesting a game-free get-together, but they often insist on bringing new games they've discovered - in doing so, the game nearly always results in a shouting match if the husband loses.

I have a feeling the wife knows her husband is creating an anxious environment for all guests, but I don't know how to broach the subject with either of them - or if that's overstepping my boundaries. Is there a polite way to initiate a conversation about his competitive temper, or should we just grin and bear it?

Love, Game Night Gone Wrong

My dear Mrs. Peacock in the Conservatory with a Candlestick,

There's an ancient saying that guides me in times just like this: Never play Pin the Tail on the Donkey with a jackass. (Old wisdoms have to start somewhere, and I noticed a new wrinkle when I smiled at myself in the mirror today so I might be just the girl to invent one.) I think it means don't underestimate the differences in people, no matter how much we seem to like each other or how much we seem to be alike. We do, but we're not.

Sure, we're at the same game night. We've all brought along a bottle of whatever chosen solely for the pretty label, we smell like hour-old showers and freshly spritzed scents, and we're all wearing expensive denim worn in by someone else plus varying shades and stripes of black. We've all ignored the broccoli and zeroed out the carrots, and we've tentatively yet somehow enthusiastically promised to do a group cleanse sometime in the near future as we crunch chips drowning in salsa. We've listened with lumps in our throats to our friends' latest tales of work worries or wistfully hopeful baby conjuring while wondering what in the world we'd do with forced unpaid time off. Not to mention a baby. Unless we have one already, and then it's an even bigger gulp while we wonder whatever we'd do without that baby. There's a comfortable pause, one last dip, a pretty refill, and the games begin. As do the brawls.

Sigh. No one told us game night would turn into Fight Club.

I wish your friend's mate would play well with others. Some people have self-awareness, and some, like this guy, have Professor Plum run out. It happens to the best of us when we're not at our best. I feel sad for her. And I would love for you to remember that you used the term 'dearest friend' to describe half of that couple. Focus on that, please. Everyone has something. This is her something.

Marriage, to me at least, is the biggest game of chance and luck of all. You've got to know when to hold, when to bet the house, when to call a bluff, and when to walk away. Give couples a few extra hands when you see them losing. We tend to forget our innate propensity for goodness at times like this, don't we? And after a dramatic game night when a boy gets too blustery, the flurry of texts and goss the next day don't help, until all of a sudden we're writing to an advice columnist because game night as we know it is in jeopardy! It happens.

There's a part of us that likes playing these dramatic games. The can-you-believe-he-said-thats, the should-we-say-somethings, the there's-no-way-I'm-going-to-say-anythings, and the but-you-totally-shoulds, all in between the texts postponing the group juice fast. That should stop. Humanity for a thousand, Alex.

If you decide you simply must say something to your friend, fight fair. Try not to use words like hate and super hate. Avoid beginning your sentences with 'We were all talking and…' or 'Everyone agrees…' or anything that could be a synonym for 'You guys suck.' Don't blurt it out. Don't crow even a little. And please don't follow up with an embarrassingly fervent "IN YOUR FACE!" when you feel like you've won. There will be no winners here. Tell the truth in the most truthful way possible. Life – in a kind, civilized society at least – is no place for gloating. But this is not my advice. Not even close. Because there always seems to be a winner and a loser even with the most gracious players, carefully unwritten rules, and sweet intentions. Your dear friend deserves better.

As you well know, the first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club! Same goes for game night. So I'd like to solve the puzzle, Pat. Grin and Bear It. But you already knew this, didn't you, Mrs. Peacock?

That's the only way I live my days. (And remember: If you're dealing with un-dearest friends who turn your game night into anything but fun, let's play a little charades, shall we? Famous Quote. Seven words. Seven syllables. Sounds like "Life's short. Don't spend it with jerks." Bingo.)