I let friends stay at my lake house for a long weekend while I was away. I returned to six loads of dirty laundry, furniture moved all over the place and a pile of water toys in my shed — without so much as a thank-you note for letting them stay. I was upset and let them know it. Not only did they fail to apologize, they criticized my reaction (and questioned the amount of laundry they had actually left). I feel gaslit. These people are like family to me, but I’m not sure I can forgive them. Their response to my complaint was worse than the original inconsiderate behavior. What can I do?
Listen, I’m going to give you some advice that may be hard to take: Do nothing (for now). There’s no question your friends behaved badly — though you almost have to admire the audacity of quibbling over the amount of dirty laundry they left. It’s upsetting when people deflect legitimate objections by policing tone.
But let’s look at something else you wrote: “These people are like family to me.” I don’t take that lightly. So, assuming your friends normally enrich your life, give them some time to recognize their mistake and circle back to you with a sincere apology. Many people can be defensive about criticism initially (you’re writing to one of them), then regret their bad behavior and squirrelly responses.
Now, some readers may prefer the (seeming) strictness of Maya Angelou’s familiar wisdom: When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. But “who they are” may be dear friends who need a minute to admit they’re wrong. If you can’t tolerate this delay, step back from them. Otherwise, give them two weeks, then gently raise the issue again.
The Ick Factor
I went to a coffee shop to buy an iced coffee. While I was waiting for my drink, I saw a food-service worker cough into her latex-gloved hand, then continue making a sandwich. I was appalled and called out to her to change gloves. She looked at me blankly, then continued making the sandwich. I repeated my charge, and the store manager mumbled that she hadn’t coughed into her hand. I decided I’d made my point and left the shop. Was it my business to pursue this matter?
I totally get your hygienic fantasy that food-service workers will never bring their hands near their mouths or any surface with germs on it for hours at a stretch. (The alternative is gross!) I hope they try their best to change their gloves if they do, but they’re only human. And the risk of getting illnesses like Covid-19 from a sandwich prepared by a coughed-on glove is relatively low.
It’s probably not productive, though, to shout accusations at workers from across the room. Next time, approach the worker or her supervisor directly and share your concern privately. Because it’s also in our nature to protect ourselves from public humiliation and shaming.
Pre-Pooping the Party
I work at a small nonprofit organization. I supervise a department and a few interns. One intern who started recently is socially awkward: He asks inappropriate questions and shares too much information. He asked if he could host a dinner and game night for members of our department at his home. I immediately said no. I think it’s inappropriate (though longer-term employees have hosted dinners before). Was I right?
I don’t doubt you were trying to protect your team. But it’s not inappropriate to invite colleagues to a party. Being socially awkward — or new — is not a crime. And there’s probably no one in your organization with less clout than a summer intern. It would be exquisitely easy for anyone to refuse his invitation.
Generally, I don’t see supervisors as arbiters of what employees or interns do after hours. And, practically, there was little reason to pour cold water on the party plans: The only people who would have gone were those who wanted to.
Just a Number
I am a 76-year-old widow. For two years, I have been dating a man who is 12 years younger than I am. (I look 10 years younger than my age.) My boyfriend knows I’m older than he is, but he doesn’t know by how much. I have never lied to him, but I have refused to discuss the matter. We are now talking about living together. I know I should tell him my age before he moves in, but I’m afraid it will end our relationship. I’m plagued with stress about this. What should I do?
If your boyfriend really cared about your age, he would probably know it by now. Your refusal to tell him would not be the final word here. So, it’s possible you’re worried over nothing. It’s also possible that the age gap — and your insistence on keeping it secret — may spook him. (So far, I’ve been a big help, right?)
The bigger issue, as I see it, is your stress level: Better to tell him and let the chips fall where they may than to worry constantly about something you can’t change. He’s going to find out eventually.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.