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We don’t like our friend’s new girlfriend. Are we wrong to avoid her?

The question

My boyfriend's friends are fun, open-minded, interesting people. Except one. "Skip" has been seeing "Beanie." Skip is a grown man (sort of) and can date whom he wants. But I heard lots about Beanie through the grapevine, none of it too positive. I try not to make a decision about someone based on what other people say, but then we met Beanie, and everything seems true. I could overlook her character flaws for the sake of being friendly, but the conversation was truly awkward. My boyfriend and I agreed we do not like her, and planned to avoid any situations involving the pair. Then through Facebook I discovered Beanie is my first cousin. Now I'm feeling guilty. She seems to have gone through some rough times, but I'm too ashamed to tell anyone she's my cousin. How should I proceed?

The answer

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I'm afraid I'm going to give you a bit of a hard time.

I don't do this often. I don't like taking letter writers to task. I like Damage Control to be a judgment-free zone.

My philosophy: We all screw up, me maybe more than anyone. If I started to speak "from on high" to anyone, my friends would mock and deride me.

Best thing for me to do, I figure: Use my vast experience of screwing up to a) sympathize, b) help people dig their way out of the holes they've dug.

I only turn the spotlight on the questioner when he/she seems blind to his or her own issues.

In your case, madam – well, to be blunt, your social circle sounds way too judgy and gossipy, and I think it's rubbed off on you.

The first red flag was that you'd already received a dossier full of negative reviews about Beanie before you'd even met her. Everyone's sitting around ripping poor Beanie a new one, and you and your boyfriend are lapping it up, even though she's a total stranger to you.

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The other red flags:

You can't help slipping in a dig: "Skip is a grown man (sort of) and can date whom he wants." To which, if I were Skip, I would respond: Oooh, thank you for your permission, Your Highness!

Then you congratulate yourself on your open-mindedness: "I try not to make a decision about someone based on what people say." But why do you feel you have to make a "decision" about anyone, ever? Are you Judge Judy?

And statements such as, "I could overlook her character flaws for the sake of being friendly," reinforce the image of you sitting on an invisible dais, with invisible gavel, wearing an invisible powdered wig, jurisprudentially gazing down upon lesser beings: "Having examined the evidence contained in the dossier of plaintiff 'Beanie,' and heard her testimony, it is this court's decision not to overlook her flaws." Bang gavel. Adjust wig. Leave with rustling of robe.

Who among us doesn't have character flaws?

Then, after all that, you decide you don't like Beanie and are going to avoid her henceforward – based on a single "awkward" conversation!

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First of all, have you ever had an introductory conversation with someone that wasn't awkward?

Second, I never presume to have the slightest inkling of someone's character until I've known that person for at least 10 years – and even then I'm often surprised. More than once I've ended up working in an office with people I'd known for years, only to have the same thought: "Wow, you really see just the tip of the iceberg when you only know someone socially."

At the risk of seeming judgmental (and thus hypocritical) myself, I think you need to "proceed" by taking a long, hard look at the woman in the mirror. Then tilting the mirror and taking a look at the boyfriend standing behind you.

Ask yourself: "Who am I to judge anyone – let alone after a single conversation?" And: "Could I not have had a little more humility and compassion?"

I've been scratching my head trying to figure out what Beanie could have said that made the two of you decide to never see her again. Is she a racist? A Ku Klux Klanswoman? Is she too vulgar? Dim-witted?

Maybe she has one of those high-pitched, huffing-on-helium type voices?

Whatever the reason, you and your boyfriend should give your first cousin a second chance.

Swallow whatever first impression you formed and not only not avoid her, but actively seek out her company.

Not because she's your cousin. Not because she's dating a friend. Not because she's had a hard time. Not even just because she's a human being.

But because it'll be good for you two too-quick-to-judge lovebirds. It'll be good for your souls, and the improvement and development of your characters. And who couldn't use a bit of that?

What am I supposed to do now?

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