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Friend asks for sympathy, receives a bill

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

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Carolyn Hax

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Q Three of us ladies planned a trip to New York for two nights to see shows. We reserved a hotel room to share among us. Train and theater tickets were purchased ahead of time.

Several days before our planned departure, one person backed out because a relative was near death, and she needed to fly across the country to be with him. When the remaining two of us asked her to pay her portion of the hotel bill, she refused. She played the “sympathy” card saying she was already out the train and theater tickets as well as the cost of flying to see her relative, and we should have empathy and not expect her to pay her part of the room. We told her we were sorry for her situation, but she had made a commitment and we expected her to honor it. Now she has severed our friendship. How do I handle this? She lives next door! — K.

A That’s not “play(ing) the ‘sympathy’ card,” that’s asking for sympathy.

And deserving it. Do you know how callous you sound?

Is this what we have become? Is it OK now to assume everyone’s working an angle and we all just grab what we can for ourselves?

Your friend was dealing with a relative’s death. Yes, she made a commitment, but a death in the family is widely considered a legitimate excuse. (Top 3! at least.)

Here is how you handle that: “I am so sorry. We’ll miss you. Don’t worry about the hotel, obviously — and let us know what else we can do.” Yes, you got stuck paying more, but you got more space, too. You also had “several days” to try to renegotiate or rebook your room.

And kindness is its own reward.

Were this strictly a money issue, then I might answer differently, but nothing about your letter says, “We felt terrible for her and would have absorbed her share if we could have.” You don’t feel bad for her, you feel bad only for you. In fact, feelings came up only because you were annoyed that she asked you to have them.

If you now grasp this and regret it on any level, then walk next door to apologize for letting the battery die on your humanity. I don’t see an apology working unless you mean it, and it might not even if you do, but it’s the right move regardless.

For the record, if I were this neighbor, I would have paid you your third and then severed the friendship just to tie off the ends. But that’s neither here nor there.

 

Q My boyfriend and I are in our late 20s and have been dating for two years. We are starting to introduce our parents to extended family.

My boyfriend’s parents have been divorced for 20 years. He is extremely close to his mom but his dad is pretty distant. They see each other on random holidays and talk a few times a year. His mom has lived with an amazing man, “Bob,” for 13 years but they are not married. My boyfriend considers Bob more of a father figure than his biological dad. However, since Bob is not technically his stepdad, how should I introduce him to my family? The mom says to just introduce him as “Bob,” but I feel like that diminishes Bob’s importance in my boyfriend’s life. Any suggestions? — Anxious

A Scripts are easier with names, so here I’ll refer your boyfriend as Beau and his mom as Mimi.

■ You can be truthful about the relationships in as economical a way as possible: “This is Bob, Mimi’s partner and basically Beau’s dad.” “This is Beau’s mom, Mimi, and his mostly-dad, Bob.”

■ You can decide a fiction is truer than the truth (but clear it with Mimi, Bob and Beau first): “This is Beau’s mom, Mimi, and his stepdad Bob.”

■ You can focus on the emotional connection versus the legal one: “This is Bob, Mimi’s partner and Beau’s rock.”

■ You can let people sort it out amongst themselves — “This is Mimi and Bob” — and trust either that someone will ask who’s related to whom, or that no one will need the specifics. The sneaky beauty of this is that Bob can then use his own words to describe himself, and it’s a possible conversation starter for the newly introduced.

■ You can also win by not playing. Explain to your family beforehand who Bob is, and then you really can just introduce him as Bob.

By the way — this is one of those heartening situations where you really can’t lose. It’s unfortunate the biological dad is distant, of course. But Mimi chose a good partner in Bob. Bob has been good to Beau. Beau accepted Bob into his life even though Bob arrived when Beau was a teenager and that can’t have been easy for any of them. And you embrace them deeply enough to want to do them justice. Whatever words you choose, you’ve already said the right things.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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