Miss Conduct

Game over

Handling an unforced error before a Fenway get-together, plus smoker visitation rights.

By Robin Abrahams
July 31, 2011

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We live in New York, and several months ago a couple from Boston invited us to join them for a Red Sox game on their season tickets. But three weeks before the game, the girlfriend e-mailed, retracting their invitation. Her family was going to be in town that weekend (the only visit they could make that year), and they were taking them instead. No other plans were suggested. I’m annoyed that the boyfriend had her cancel instead of telling me himself (I am closer to him), and that it was done by e-mail rather than by phone. Should I let them know I am offended?

K.D. / New York

Yes, do speak up. I often advise Friends of the Rude to do a bit of soul-searching and think through their own idiosyncratic definition of friendship, personal boundaries, and hot buttons before confronting their offending comrades. If soul-searching is your thing, I wouldn’t dissuade you from it, but primarily I think you need to say something for your friends’ sake, not your own.

Their behavior was definitely rude, but the compounding of the discourtesies suggests that something might have been up. The girlfriend’s parents (I’m assuming this is what “family” means) announced that they were making an annual visit with only three weeks’ notice? And your friend made his girlfriend tell you, instead of calling you himself? And they didn’t suggest that you join them –?boyfriend, girlfriend, and visiting family –?for so much as a walk in the Public Garden? Do the math, and it looks as though the visit might have been an unpleasant surprise for your friends, and one that caused a bit of strain in their relationship.

So, the next time you talk to them, mention, in a sincere but non-accusatory tone, “Hey, I love you guys, but that really annoyed us when you canceled like that and didn’t even suggest alternate plans to see each other.” See where the conversation goes. Maybe they are just big old disorganized flakes, in which case they’re used to being scolded by friends for bailing out at the last minute. Or else they were in a pickle, in which case they might be relieved to be called out on their bad behavior so that they can explain themselves and make amends.

I teach craft classes in my home. During the class, some students take smoke breaks outside. My husband is severely allergic to smoke, and after the class the odor can linger in my studio and even our bedroom for a couple of days. My husband wants me to tell them they can’t go outside to smoke at all. I want to respect his health and his wishes, but I can’t think of a way to approach them that won’t make them feel as if I’m asking them not to attend. Any suggestions?

L.R. / Littleton

Smokers are generally decent folk, and your students would be horrified if they knew they’d been causing your husband suffering. Be straightforward: “It’s harder to get the smell of smoke out of the house than we realized, so I’m going to have to ask you to step off the property when you have a cigarette.” You already managed to ask them not to smoke in the house; just replace “house” with “property” and say whatever you did the first time. (Do, however, pretend that you only recently noticed the problem. It’s not fair to make your students feel retroactively self-conscious about smelling up your house when you’d never told them about it.) You might want to loosen up the structure of your class so that the smokers will feel comfortable leaving to get their fix. In fact, exercise often gives the creative process a boost. Why not encourage all your students to take a break now and then to walk around the block or do a sun salutation?

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.


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