My longtime friend “Toni” is getting divorced from her husband, “Cal,” after his affair. It has been very messy. Toni has gone scorched-earth and demanded everyone choose a side. Cal is very close to my husband and my daughters. I have known Toni for over 15 years—including when she had an affair and had an abortion to keep it a secret. I held her hand during the procedure. Toni just accused my 23-year-old daughter of having sex with Cal because she wanted both Toni and Cal at her graduation. My daughter called me crying, and I don’t know what to do. My immediate impulse is to call Toni and tell her off and then let everyone else know what Toni did. I know that is not the right thing to do, but I don’t know what that is.
Oh, I think telling Toni off is absolutely the next right thing for you to do here. What she did to your daughter was unconscionable and a certified act of friendship-ending. Give yourself a day or two to calm down so that you’re able to speak with composure. Don’t call her names or throw her abortion back in her face, but aside from that, feel free to let her know how cruel and unnecessary her lie was, that she’s utterly broken your trust in her, that you hope she never treats another person the way she’s treated you and your daughter—and that she’s no longer welcome at the graduation ceremony. If you want to talk to your friends about Toni’s latest accusation about your daughter, you’re well within your rights to do so. But don’t bring up her previous affair or abortion; that’s a private and painful event worth protecting regardless of how badly she behaves.
I recently attended the company picnic at a local amusement park. In the pavilion area we rented for games, I was interrupted during bingo (I know, I know, but the prizes were real!) an eventually frustrating number of times, being asked to “come meet” someone’s family. I understand this seems easier than them coming to meet me, since it was just me and my boyfriend, but one, I have no sincere interest in doing so, and two, they’ve interrupted my game. As we have more holiday parties, what are my obligations here? I got one comment today already about how someone’s adult children were “disappointed they didn’t get to meet” me (yet they made no effort to introduce themselves, which I wanted to, but didn’t, point out to their mother). I understand I can’t be left alone at a company function, but what can I say that will get me as close to that as possible?
Almost no one has a sincere interest in meeting co-workers’ families or fulfilling any of the many necessary functions of a company picnic, which is part of the terrible paradox of the forced fun of a company picnic: It looks like relaxation, but it isn’t really. Your time isn’t entirely your own at a work party. That doesn’t mean you can’t say something like, “I’ll come by after this game” or “Send them over!” if you’re interrupted multiple times in a row. It also doesn’t mean you can’t say to your co-worker with the disappointed children that you look forward to meeting them next time before cheerfully getting back to work. “X was disappointed they didn’t get to meet you” is generally offered as more of a pleasantry or compliment than a reprimand, so I don’t think you should worry that you’re being scolded for attempting to play some company-provided bingo at a company picnic. In the future, if you’re in the middle of a game or a conversation or a canapé while a co-worker wants to “steal you for just a quick second,” you can always say, “Let me finish this, and I’ll be over in a few minutes.” But more often than not, at a company party, these are conversations that will have to be deferred rather than escaped entirely.
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My parents are 76 and healthy, still drive, and participate in a range of community activities. They have had recent medical screenings and have normal cognition for people their age. They haven’t always made great financial decisions—taking jobs at a private school with no pension rather than a public school with a good pension system, for example—but they’re not erratic or unreliable. I’m their executor and have power of attorney, mostly because I live locally but also because my sister is horribly bossy and closed-minded. She wants to make our parents clear all their financial decisions with us and make various changes around their home. If my parents balk, she plans to nag them to death until they acquiesce. I told her that I’d go along with anything (within reason) that our parents want to do but that they’re still capable of making their own decisions. Now, my sister’s on my case—that I’m too close to the situation, that I’m too lackadaisical, that I’m too afraid of confrontation. Can I just tell her to shut up?
—The ’Rents Are All Right, All Right?
Yes, of course you can, and you should. Her plan is to nag you to death until you agree to join her in nagging your parents to death. Luckily, you’re the one with power of attorney, she lives far away, and you can always hang up on her if she won’t take “no” for an answer. You’re making an investment in your own future peace of mind (and your parents’) by following through on the limit you’ve already established. There’s a reason you’re “close to the situation” and she isn’t, and you should make sure she stays at a remove from the situation for good.
I live in an expensive city where housing is scarce, but I’m fortunate enough to own a home. I offered the second bedroom to my friends “Courtney” and “Ross.” They’re a couple who share a room, pay half the expenses, and do half the housework. We share meals and food costs. It’s great, but I am expected to be ready to teach at 7 a.m. (so I can’t eat my breakfast at work) and have a 40-minute commute. Courtney works 9–5 at a nearby bank, and Ross works an afternoon shift; they’re both “night people.” The house is large and echo-y, and Courtney, a delicate sleeper, is easily disturbed by the sounds of me preparing breakfast. She requested that since I work a “nonstandard” schedule, I eat breakfast out each morning so as to not wake her. I agreed but soon realized that it costs me an extra $50 per week to eat out while still paying for one-third of the groceries. I suggested that this cost be added into our weekly food expenses, but Courtney balked. Was I being unfair to ask this? Can I insist? Other than this, they’re great roommates.
—Nonstandard Schedule Standards
Eating breakfast out five days a week just because your roommate is a light sleeper was not a reasonable request, and you’re under no obligation to abide by it just because your first instinct was to give in. I’m all for being respectful of common quiet hours, and it’s certainly unfortunate that your respective schedules conflict as they do, but quietly making breakfast is a reasonable morning activity, and while you can be thoughtful and quick about it wherever possible, you shouldn’t have to spend an additional $50 a week and hustle out the door by (or before) 6 a.m. You two can both do your best to be mindful of each other—it may be possible for you to occasionally prepare your breakfast the night before, and Courtney can get earplugs or a white noise machine—but it’s unreasonable for her to demand you clear out of the house the minute you roll out of bed and pay for it too.
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Our office shares a double restroom with another company that occupies the floor of our building. This has never been an issue because 10 women work in our office and no women worked at the other company. Then they hired a new female employee. A few weeks ago, I noticed that every single time I used the restroom, she was already occupying the other stall and stayed after I left. I understand that some trips take a bit longer, but even when I would leave the restroom to give her privacy, coming back after as long as 30 minutes, she would still be in the other stall. This has become such a frequent occurrence that every single other woman I work with has mentioned it, initially as a joke. But it’s turning into a very weird and protracted issue. Oftentimes we can hear her music (she wears giant over-ear headphones during these trips) and see the screen from her iPhone as she spends up to 40 minutes in a stall. We’re left to awkwardly schedule the use of the other stall around the rare occasions she leaves the restroom. Recognizing that this could be health-related, is there any hope of solving this problem? The issue comes up multiple times a day, but none of us can see a solution to this beyond leaving a ridiculously awkward note in the bathroom. Are we all stuck playing hide-and-go-seek with a stranger?
If people are using both stalls in a bathroom, then yes, you do have to wait until one of them is free. I feel confident saying that a new hire—the only woman at a company full of men—is not spending an hour or more of her workday in the bathroom for fun because she feels so confident in her job security, but because she has a medical issue. The fact that this woman wears headphones to the bathroom just means she’s trying to make the best of a difficult situation. That doesn’t make things easy for you, but try to keep your group scheduling to a minimum, and don’t let it devolve into unnecessary speculation or mean-spirited commentary. If she could use the bathroom less often, she would; asking her to do something she almost certainly can’t would be unkind and unhelpful—and doing it by leaving a note for her to read would only serve to humiliate her.
When I was a teenager, my aunt’s husband pulled me aside after I made several particularly obnoxious homophobic remarks. He quietly told me that before he met my aunt, his longest relationship was with a man and that he had had a number of male and female lovers in his youth. He explained that my remarks were hurtful but also a sign of insecurity. It was something of a turning point for me, and a few years later he and my aunt took me in when my parents kicked me out of the house after I came out to them. They also paid for me to go to college. My boyfriend and I are getting married soon, and I really want to tell this story, but I am also aware that it is not my story to tell. My aunt’s husband sadly passed away last year, so I can’t ask him whether he’s OK being outed in this way. What’s the right thing to do here? Members of his extended family will be at the wedding, and I don’t want to upset anybody, but at the same time I want to share one of the meaningful exchanges of my life on my wedding day.
—Is It Ever OK to Out Somebody After He’s Gone?
I think there’s enough usable material in this letter without outing him for a lovely toast (no one ever leaves a wedding saying, “Man, I wish the toasts had been longer” anyhow). Your aunt’s husband helped you realize that making homophobic remarks was wrong, then helped send you to college and took you in after the rest of your family rejected you when you came out—there’s a lot there! You don’t say that you feel comfortable asking your aunt about this, so I don’t think you’re going to get a strong sense about what he would have wanted. Since you want to honor him, I think it’s better to err on the side of not outing him. Confine your remarks to the (many) wonderful ways he showed you support and helped you become the man you are today.
“I consider myself to be a borderline sociopath. I view this as a neural development disorder where many people fall along a spectrum, not something to be ‘treated’ or changed. Dating is a problem. I do not feel love the way I imagine many people do. My love for someone peaks around the two-month mark in the relationship. But I have been the ‘love of their life’ for many women, who form incredibly deep bonds and end up devastated after they realize our relationship will not progress and it ends for seemingly no reason. What am I to do?”