I’m traveling to New Hampshire to spend Thanksgiving with my sister, her husband, and his entire family. I’m happy to be invited and usually have a pretty good time, but every year my sister seats me next to her mother-in-law and the woman wears so much perfume I can hardly breathe, much less eat my dinner. I know it would be impolite to say anything. Her mother-in-law is, like, 94 so I’m sure she has no clue about odorous she is. Can I ask my sister to make someone else sit next to her? —Burford
My Dear Burford,
In a word—no. Nice try, but since you’ve admitted that sitting next to your sister’s mother-in-law causes you both respiratory and dining difficulties, you can’t really attempt to pass the unpleasantness buck onto someone else. What you can do, however, is ask your sister to speak to her husband’s mother. As the host, she’s responsible for making her guests comfortable. She might consider telling her mother-in-law how much she likes her perfume, but sometimes she feels almost “outdone” in her own home. Ten to one the old bird will catch on immediately, show up for dinner perfume-free, and you will be in for the best Thanksgiving you’ve had in years—conversation-wise. Let me know how it goes.
One of my best girl friends just got out of a relationship with a man who lied to her repeatedly. I think the guy is a borderline sociopath and that she should try to get back at him, but she insists on being all forgiving and everything. She says if she doesn’t just detach and focus on herself she will go nuts, so it’s mostly self-preservation on her part. What do you think about this? —Conchita
My Dear Conchita,
I think you are better off letting your friend worry about her own relationships while you focus on you. Personally, I can’t stand it when someone I care about gets hurt or is treated unfairly, but unless they ask me to do something on their behalf I have to remind myself that the burden is, in fact, not mine but theirs. The best thing you can do is offer to comfort your friend and advise her to steer clear of the man in question. Let me also say that retaliation is just plain wrong, pretty rude, and will ultimately make any decent person feel more than a little rotten about herself.
A woman I care deeply about once had a man tell her he had had a vasectomy but “he didn’t know if it had taken.” The poor dear had no idea this was one of the oldest lines in the book for guys who just don’t want to practice safe sex. Like you, I was incredulous on her behalf, but I had to remind her that trust is a relative concept—people can and do let you down—and she had better learn to protect herself in the future. Meanwhile, I secretly hoped the Buddhists were correct in their idea of hell being a rather long journey in the afterlife.
It’s wonderful you care so much for your friend. The most caring thing you can do is respect her wishes on this. It sounds as if she’s got a good handle on what she needs. I suggest you follow her lead.