Mom and Dad have been married for 45 years. Their relationship seems O.K. But at my father’s 70th birthday party, I asked him if he had a wish. He said, “I wish I was one of your mother’s old boyfriends. She’s always positive about them, but criticizes and complains about me. She might have been happier with one of them, and I might have been happier too.” My siblings and I were stunned! My father pivoted quickly, and my mother wasn’t in the room to hear him. Now, my siblings and I disagree: Should we tell Mom and follow up with Dad about his feelings, or let this pass?
It sounds as if your father had an emotionally honest moment with his adult children at a milestone birthday party. (Shocking, I know!) But many veterans of long relationships will confirm that their unions are made of loving communion, active conflict and long stretches of drift. Proportions vary, of course, and thoughts turn occasionally to what might have been.
Your mother is hardly the first person to throw her wonderful exes in her partner’s face. And your father is not the first spouse to wonder whether his life might have been happier with someone else. But the fact is: They stuck it out together for 45 years.
Feel free to engage your father about his feelings — preferably one-on-one and when the moment is suitably contemplative. You can even encourage him to raise the issue with your mother. But this is not your story to tell her. The intimacies of other people’s marriages are best left to them.
I am the college adviser at a high school. I have the misfortune of sharing my small office with a kitchenette used by faculty and staff. One of the teachers stocked it with mismatched old dishes for communal use. My job often involves bringing students to the kitchenette during lunchtime, and I invite them to use a bowl or dish if they need to microwave their food. But upon seeing this, the aforementioned teacher collected his used kitchenware and took it home with him. Did I make a mistake? Do I owe him an apology?
You did nothing wrong! While meeting in your office, you offered a small kindness to the students who are required to see you there. If the teacher was so scandalized by this that he decided to take back his mismatched plates (without a word to you), let him enjoy his petty outrage in private. Say nothing.
But do request an office transfer. Students often share their deepest hopes and disappointments with college advisers. They deserve more privacy than the bustling hub of a faculty kitchen with a microwave (and math teachers) buzzing within earshot. Even the most overcrowded school should be able to find you a better spot.
My fiancée and I are planning our wedding, and we’d prefer not to have babies or children there. We are not close to any of the kids of our invitees, and we don’t want crying or loud playing during the ceremony or reception (or the extra expense, either). How do we let guests know that children are not allowed? We’re having the wedding at my parents’ home, so we could hire a babysitter if you think we have to.
Dude, it’s your wedding! You and your fiancée get to decide who comes. Now, old-school etiquette mavens will tell you that it’s rude to mention “no children” on invitations. They prefer you handle the issue obliquely by addressing envelopes only to the parties you want to invite and placing your no-child policy on your wedding website.
But I think that’s too subtle for our world. Last week, I sat in a doctor’s waiting room while a fellow patient screamed into his cellphone while staring straight at a sign that read “No Cellphones, Please.” We’re more inclined to suit ourselves these days. So I’d add a line to the invitation: “This is an adults-only celebration.” (And don’t make any exceptions! That will only peeve the people who follow your rules.)
… and Republican-Proof?
My husband and I are hosting our annual block party. As a committed and active Democrat, I have some paraphernalia around the house that reflects my views. Trouble is, several of my neighbors are ardent Republicans. Should I remove my political items to ensure that they are comfortable at the party? We all know each other’s politics. We get around it by avoiding the subject when we’re together.
Leave your home as it is. I applaud your desire to make your guests comfortable. But reasonable people differ, and as you say, everyone already knows your politics. One caveat: Remove items that vilify candidates or parties. (No caricatures of President Trump in diapers or framed “Lock Her Up” T-shirts.) They are needlessly provocative. Otherwise, no reason to purge evidence of sincere beliefs from your own home.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.