I’m 52 years old and divorced. My girlfriend is 40 years old and divorced. We are in love, and our relationship of nine months is serious. My issue is that when she dresses casually it is often too provocative: midriff exposed, low-cut top, bra-less. I find her clothes embarrassing at times; I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my college-age daughter wearing these outfits. My girlfriend is very pretty, has not had children, and is thin, which she is clearly flaunting. She is a wonderful, loving person, and I don’t know how to have the conversation without hurting her feelings. How do I start this conversation?
As the song goes: Summertime, and the living is easy/ Cleavage jumping … This is going to be a touchy conversation. A 40-year-old woman who runs around bra-less in a low-cut top surely has long enjoyed the whiplash injuries she causes in men as she passes by. She will probably huffily point out to you that she is a grown woman and free to dress however she likes. But when one partner consistently does something that makes the other cringe, it’s fair and necessary for the cringer to ask that the issue be discussed. Open with “I love you, you’re gorgeous, and you’re sexy,” then tell her that sometimes you’re uncomfortable with how revealing her casual outfits are. If she accuses you of being jealous of how other men look at her, explain that you think she’d be even sexier if she revealed less. And surely, at age 40, she’s already begun to wonder how long she can get away with dressing like this before she looks more desperate than desirable.
I am pregnant, and my husband is in Iraq. Two months ago, my only sibling, my younger sister, died suddenly at the age of 20. I have temporarily moved back to my parents’ home so that I can be with friends and family during our time of grief. Throughout this time, we have been blessed with new friends, condolences from acquaintances, and shared stories from people who knew my sister. The outpouring was a comfort to us, and we are so proud of the life she lived. My question is in regard to the uglier side of social interactions after a death in the family. What can we do about those who pull a “duck and run,” who completely avoid any conversation, eye contact, or interaction with the family? I’m talking about people who are close, or those you have daily interaction with, such as co-workers. It takes little courage to say, “I am so sorry to hear about your news.” That is more than sufficient to us. Yet, some lifelong friends suddenly seem to have the impression that our condition is leprosy, not grief. Everyone in my family has experienced this to some extent. I am particularly heartbroken about the behavior of a close friend from college. I have lost a sister, and now I feel that I have lost a friend. I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt—it must feel terribly awkward to not know what to say. But should we confront the offenders? Should we accept them back into our lives when they are ready? I’m not sure I can muster that much grace.
I hope that people who recognize themselves in your letter will take your lesson to heart: Grief-stricken people are hurt when others pretend nothing has happened. A simple “I’m so sorry for your loss. You are in my thoughts” is essential and meaningful. I talked to a friend who has also suffered a terrible loss about his experiences. He, too, knows of getting a comforting connection from someone unexpected, and of the painful silence from a friend. He said he has tried to accept that some people just go AWOL in the face of death, and that you have to weigh the entirety of your relationship with the person. In your situation and that of your family, the co-worker who says nothing is just an awkward co-worker with whom you will never be friends. As for your close friend who has let you down—it’s probably worth it when you feel able to have the conversation to tell her that it’s been hard to go through the loss of your sister without being able to talk to her about how you are feeling. Maybe she can acknowledge that she’s felt terrible about her absence and wants to do better. If she can’t, then you have to decide whether to continue this much-diminished friendship. In the meantime, you have so much going on—a baby on the way, a husband in Iraq, your sister’s death—that you should think about talking to a neutral party such as a clergy member or a counselor to help you get through this overwhelming time.
I work in a small office. Until recently, my co-workers and I enjoyed a daily ritual of eating lunch together in the break room. It gave us a chance to talk about our families, joke around, and relate to each other outside the context of work. About a month ago, our boss began to use lunch as an opportunity to discuss work issues. It has now reached the point where our unpaid lunch “break” feels more like a mandatory staff meeting. Our boss can be very intimidating, so we are afraid to bring up the issue with him directly. We have attempted to drop subtle hints and change the subject, but he always manages to steer the conversation back to work. There are no restaurants nearby, and with only 30 minutes to spare, we have few options for eating outside the office. It has gotten so bad that we’ve half-joked about eating in the bathroom! Are we doomed to discuss productivity and quarterly reports over our peanut butter sandwiches?
—Gimme a Break
Forget the hints. It sounds as if your boss gets subtlety about as well as Steve Carell’s character in The Office. He may be intimidating, but what’s he going to do if you band together? Since he does make all of you nervous, a meeting might backfire, with one or two of you looking like ringleaders while the others fall silent. Instead, write a letter—keep the tone light!—that everyone signs. Explain that the liverwurst is sitting like a lump in your stomach when you have to worry at lunch about sales projections. Tell him that truly getting a break recharges your collective batteries and that sharing non-work-related conversation allows you to form closer bonds. Say that since you have only limited time for your lunch, you need to take these breaks at the office but that they really need to be breaks. Then when he comes into the lunchroom, have someone ask him (or perhaps say it in unison), “Seen any good movies lately?”
I work in an office where I need to speak to customers on a regular basis. For some reason, quite a few of our customers insist on eating on the phone while talking. I cannot think of a nice way to let them know that it really grosses me out.
Maybe your customers work for bosses even more oppressive than the one above, and no one gets a lunch break. Since people now wear telephone receivers permanently attached to their ear and consider it acceptable to continue conversations throughout all phases of digestion, I’m not surprised that you’re subjected to crunching and slurping. However, these are customers, not friends, and the reason you can’t think of a polite way to tell them to finish chewing before placing their order is that there isn’t one. Just consider the sound effects a cost of doing business.