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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I received this text from my sister-in-law “Nicole” the other day: “You’ve been added to a list of references to adopt a dog. So answer your phone when the opportunity arises. Thanks! Sorry I didn’t ask first but it was [husband’s] idea.”

I have several issues with this text. No one asked me to be a reference or if they could provide my contact information. I don’t feel comfortable giving them a reference AT ALL. They have a rambunctious 4-year-old who put my 3-year-old in a choke hold a couple of months ago and swung him around in front of adults, so I am concerned that he would have ample unsupervised time with said puppy. There are several other concerns as well.

I really wish they had asked me. I am also bothered that I was told to answer my phone. I work during the day so answering the phone is not always an option and I found this very inconsiderate. I felt told. Throwing the husband under the bus is also concerning.

I didn’t know how to respond, so last night she sent another text that said never mind, forget it. She gets easily angered and will blast text hateful things to you for days, so I feel really stuck.

I want to address her demands and set a boundary — always ask before providing the person’s information for a reference. I am not sure how to go about doing this without her exploding. I couldn’t sleep last night trying to figure out how to best approach the situation. I am tempted to just let it go, but I don’t think this is how you should treat people.

— Rock, Meet Hard Place

Rock, Meet Hard Place: Wait — no. There’s no rock here, nor a hard place.

I agree with every one of the things you flag as problematic. The text crossed so many lines.

But other remedies besides taking an open stand with your sister-in-law happen to work just as well, arguably better, than active ones in this case.

Let’s say the request hadn’t been retracted. You would have been well within decency bounds to text back: “Can’t promise to answer phone but will try.”

Then if you had gotten a call, you could have either screened it or picked up and said, “They have a rambunctious 4-year-old who has been rough with my toddler.”

Because that’s what you were being asked to do: give a reference. No guilt, just facts, and it covers the relevant bases.

With the “never mind,” you can now just ignore the whole thing. She is not asking you to do anything (anymore); you don’t have to answer your phone for anyone (and never did); you don’t need to set a boundary now because you can still set the exact same boundary next time, if necessary; and her throwing the husband under the bus is more the husband’s headache than it is yours (except on holidays, I’d imagine).

You can still ask her not to give out your info without asking first, if that’s a battle worth fighting now — and then just ignore with steely calm whatever immature, inappropriate fury she unleashes, because that’s her problem.

With difficult people, emotional minimalism is your friend. They don’t deserve our sleep.

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