What to do when confronted with a former friend, plus questions that invade your privacy.
A woman and I were close friends in college. Afterward, we drifted apart. I would call and leave messages, and she’d never return them. Even when I moved across the country for a job, she did not come to my going-away party or call. A couple years ago, I dated a mutual friend of ours from college, and that was the only time I heard from her – she just wanted to confirm the relationship. I even asked if she wanted to double date – no reply. At that point, I deleted her from my friends on Facebook. This summer is our five-year college reunion. If I see her, what should I say? A.S. / Andover You say, “How nice to see you! What have you been up to lately? You look fantastic.” She does the 30-second elevator pitch on her life, you do the 30-second one on yours, and then you say, “I think I’m going to get myself a drink – see you later!” (If you actually have a drink at the time, use another excuse. Saying you’re going to get yourself a drink when you already have one can be a very useful way of getting out of a conversation with lechers or political bores. Your former friend doesn’t deserve that, though.)
She is not going to confront you about unfriending her on Facebook. Nor is she likely to apologize for or explain her behavior over the past five years. Post-collegiate relationship drift happens all the time – sometimes in a mutual fashion, sometimes, as with you and your friend, one-way. It’s possible that there was a reason for her behavior, but chances are it was just One of Those Things.
This is the problem with fifth reunions entirely, as far as I’m concerned. By your 10th reunion, you’ll have forgotten all your collegiate and early-20s slights, and simply be glad to see your friends again, either out of genuine affection, morbid curiosity, or the bemused delight that comes from seeing that some people never do change.
A few months ago I found out I have a neurological condition that has left me with a noticeable limp. When asked about this by co-workers and strangers, I am at a loss for words, as it’s not something I feel like discussing. As a result, when asked, I feel as if I’m being rude and not dealing with this well. I don’t want to lie but also do not want to explain the situation, as it’s upsetting. Any ideas how to handle this? Also, I think it is one thing when someone who knows me asks why I’m limping, but I am shocked that a stranger would ask! D.L. / Littleton You’ll get over that shock pretty quickly, I’m afraid, especially if you ask some other people with disabilities for their own stories about the clueless able-bodied. People with disabilities, like pregnant women, get treated as if their bodies were public property, a sort of advertisement for the story of their lives. In other words, D.L., it’s not you who is being rude by lacking a suave and polished answer to the question “Why do you limp?” It’s the people who are asking you.
The best answer is one that is straightforward and gives inquiring minds an honorable way to save face: “It’s a matter I don’t like to discuss. But I’m fine. And if I need your help, I’ll be sure to ask for it!” This reframes their question from being about you to being about them. People who don’t have disabilities tend to want to communicate their good will and ability to help out to people who do have disabilities, and unfortunately the too-personal question is the ham-fisted way many of them go about it. The answer above manages to convey an awareness of that probable good intent, along with firm boundaries. (Tone of voice is important here – cheerful but authoritative, that’s the key.)
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. Got a question or comment? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at boston.com/missconduct. CHAT Get advice live every first and third Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.